Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 NHL Mock Draft

Last year, I did a mock draft for the first time (here) and it was well received. So this will be something I do every year now. As I mentioned last year, while I cover the OHL extensively, I'm a hockey prospect nut in general and as such, have a fair amount of knowledge of the other players available.

This year, the draft should be very interesting. Outside of the top 4 or 5, there really doesn't seem to be much of a consensus among draft rankings. In what is being deemed an "average" draft year by NHL executives, I think we'll see two things happen. 1), A lot of deals, as teams try to secure the rights to the couple of players that they truly believe in, in this draft. And 2), A few shockers as teams reach for upside in the opening round. In a draft lacking a lot of potential top end offensive players, I think we'll see a premium put on offensive upside. We could see several guys (especially European guys, as I feel that the European crop is stronger than the NA crop for top end talent this year) who are rated in that 2nd/3rd round range right now, end up being selected in the first. Even then, the rankings for the 20-30 spots in the first round are all over the place anyway.

And well...because I'm admittedly cheering for Nashville to take home the Cup, I've got them picking last (which hopefully doesn't serve as a jinx).

Without further ado, here's my mock draft for 2017.

1. New Jersey Devils - Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)
The first time the New Jersey Devils have had the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. They've done pretty well drafting inside the Top 3 though (Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer). While NHL scouts seem split on Patrick vs. Hischier, I see the Devils favouring Patrick. Firstly, they would have seen a lot of Patrick (even with his injuries) because they've been scouting their own player, John Quenneville. Secondly, the Devils are a team that haven't drafted much out of the QMJHL historically (even with a GM change and Director of Scouting change). And the picks they have made from the league have not developed well for them (Eric Gelinas, Patrice Cormier, and Stefan Matteau, who went to the QMJHL after being drafted). The Devils' pipeline is already loaded at center with the likes of Michael McLeod, Pavel Zacha, Blake Speers, and others, but if Patrick is the guy you believe will be the best player, you take him. That said, it wouldn't shock me one bit if the Devils traded down a few spots (with say Dallas or Vancouver), to select Miro Heiskanen or another defender, as it's a desperate need for the pro club and the pipeline.

2. Philadelphia Flyers - Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Flyers have shown a massive love for the QMJHL in recent years at the draft, so it wouldn't shock me at all if Hischier was their first choice over Patrick. His dynamic offensive ability, hockey  sense, and two-way ability has seen him draw comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg. And that's precisely the type of player that would fit well into a Flyers' lineup that could compete again next year if they can upgrade their defense and get better goaltending. Hischier's smarts would probably allow him to slide right into Philadelphia's top 9 next year, as a possible linemate for great playmakers like Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek.

3. Dallas Stars - Casey Mittelstadt, Green Bay (USHL)
As I mentioned earlier, I could really see the Stars making a play for the first overall pick to grab Nolan Patrick. With Jason Spezza's age catching up to him, this is a team that could really use a top flight center for the future. It's something that they haven't really drafted in a few years and with a top 3 pick, it's their best chance to try to grab one (whether it's Patrick, Mittelstadt, Vilardi, Glass, etc). Dallas really needs to hit a home run with this pick as they haven't drafted incredibly well in recent years and they haven't picked inside the Top 5 since 1996 (Richard Jackman). Mittelstadt is the complete package offensively and is likely pretty close to being NHL ready. Having drafted Riley Tufte last year, a player who spent time in the Minnesota high school league, they are no doubt very familiar with Mittelstadt (who's the same age thanks to a late birth date). While Glass and Vilardi would be good picks here too, I think familiarity gives Mittelstadt the edge.

4. Colorado Avalanche - Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Liiga)
The Avs are a team that just can't seem to find consistent success despite having a solid collection of talent, (young talent at that). No question, the biggest need this team has is on defense, both from a pro stand point and from a farm/prospect stand point. Having drafted Rantanen, Jost, Greer, and acquiring JT Compher, this team looks great up front. But the Avs just haven't been able to draft and develop a true first pairing defender in recent years. And while you never want to reach for a player based on positional need, I think it's safe to say Miro Heiskanen isn't a reach. The talented Finnish defender was a marvel at the U18's this year, where his creativity with the puck helped him dominate from the back end. There's no question that as he develops, he could be a top pairing defender.

5. Vancouver Canucks - Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
I don't think there's any question that the Canucks are targeting one of the top centers available with this pick. As I mentioned, I could also see them trading up to #1 to get Patrick. If they stay at #5, on one hand, I'm tempted to say that the Canucks would favor Gabe Vilardi because of how much they've drafted from the OHL in recent years. And he'd be a fine pick (as if you read this blog, you know I'm a big fan). But, I think that their scouting staff will favor a guy like Cody Glass instead because of the speed component he brings to the table. One thing that the Canucks' scouting staff has really focused on the last few years is bringing in players who can really skate so that they can play a higher tempo game as the Sedins are phased out. And Glass is the guy for that, with a high motor to match great hockey sense. I think he's the best fit for the type of team that they're building.

6. Las Vegas Golden Knights - Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
I don't think anyone really knows what the Golden Knights will do at the draft this year. Scott Luce (director of scouting) was formerly the head honcho in Florida and during his time there, the team really showed no bias when it came to drafting inside the first round. Either way, this team has to select the player they believe will be the best moving forward. A true BPA situation. And I think that player is Gabe Vilardi. His vision, playmaking ability, and strength down low, makes him an ideal top 6 center for today's age because he controls the possession game and increases time of possession with his ability to control the wall. His skating isn't great, but he's close to being pro ready IMO and is the type of kid that the Golden Knights could be comfortable building their team around.

7. Arizona Coyotes - Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
If there is one thing that the Coyotes can afford to do, it's take a chance by drafting the player they feel has the highest upside; that true boom/bust prospect. Arizona has, quite possibly, the top collection of young talent in the league right now. This is especially true at the forward position. So why not swing for the fences with a guy like Makar? His offensive prowess and skating ability is top notch and he might possess the most potential of any player in this draft. Coming out of the AJHL, it's tough to gauge how well his skills will translate, and he's probably a longer term project. But I think this franchise is in a position to shoot for the stars, especially when it comes to adding a blueliner. While I was tempted to have them selecting Owen Tippett, to add another goal scorer to their fold, I think they best represent the team who can afford to take a chance on Makar.

8. Buffalo Sabres - Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
While I think Buffalo would love to add a quality blueline prospect to the pipeline (such as Liljegren, or Valimaki), they opt instead to add a big center to their staple. While there is no doubt that the Sabres have a ton of offensive talent, I think the one thing that they could really use is a net presence who can score. And Rasmussen can also skate with their top end offensive players like Eichel, Nylander, Reinhart, etc. His rankings seem to be pretty polarizing among scouting services, but Rasmussen has consistently been among the higher rated players by Bob McKenzie, which shows how much actual NHL scouts love him and the concept of having a big bodied center who can drive the middle of the ice and play the front of the net.

9. Detroit Red Wings - Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
The Red Wings have been one of the lowest scoring teams in the league the last two years. So if there's a dynamic goal scorer available, you'd have to imagine the Wings jump at the chance to draft them. Sure there are some concerns over Tippett's overall game and hockey sense, but his size and goal scoring potential have to make him an alluring attraction. And the Wings would have seen a ton of him this year while keeping tabs on Saarijarvi. If the Wings don't take Tippett here, I could really see them opting for a smart two-way center like Lias Andersson or Nick Suzuki, even if they don't have elite size. If you can't draft a goal scorer, you take guys who can make good goal scorers out of other players.

10. Florida Panthers - Elias Pettersson, Timra (Allsvenskan)
Pettersson is a high skilled offensive winger who put up some great numbers in the Swedish second league this year. He's a late '98, so he's probably a lot closer to contributing at the NHL level than some other players at this draft slot. There are some questions about the consistency of his compete level and whether he has what it takes to play through traffic at the NHL level. But he's very slightly built and adding strength could cure what ails him. There's a lot of offensive potential here if you're willing to take that gamble. He seems like he could be a very good fit with the current group of young NHL forwards that the Panthers have.

11. Los Angeles Kings - Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
To me, Suzuki just screams an LA Kings pick this year. They would have gotten a great look at him this year while watching last year's draft pick Jacob Friend. And his intelligence at both ends of the ice would be a real asset to a Kings' pipeline that is super bare right now. Even though Suzuki isn't the biggest, his tenacity and work ethic make him an ideal Western Conference player. The player he's compared to most (Joe Pavelski) has been a true workhorse in that Conference. And while his skating is only average (certainly not below average), the Kings have never been one to be scared away by poor skating in their draft picks. Again, to me, Suzuki just seems like the perfect Mike Futa player.

12. Carolina Hurricanes - Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (SHL)
Even though the Hurricanes took Julien Gauthier last year, I could see them taking another big bodied winger this year to continue to compliment some of the great young playmakers that they've assembled. Vesalainen came into the year as a potential top 10 pick, then dropped in the rankings due to a relatively mediocre year (playing against men). But a fantastic U18's seems to have really elevated his status back to lottery selection. Bottom line, big, skilled wingers don't last long at the NHL draft and are almost always scooped up early if they can skate like Vesalainen can.

13. Winnipeg Jets - Erik Brannstrom, HV-71 (SHL)
The Jets have one of the deepest prospect groups in the entire NHL. Their collection of young talent is almost unmatched in the league. So in a draft like this one, I think it makes perfect sense for them to go for a home run at the 13th overall pick. Take a guy who has extremely high upside and swing for the fences. If there's one thing that the Jets do lack right now, it's a true powerplay QB who can dominate a game offensively. And Brannstrom is just that, perhaps the defender in the draft with the most offensive upside behind Cale Makar. He's undersized, but his offensive abilities were on full display at the U18's and he's drawn rave reviews from scouts for his vision and poise with the puck. I think this is a selection that could make sense for a lot of different reasons.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning - Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
If there is a team in the league who's had success drafting and developing out of Russia lately, it's the Lightning. Kostin had a tough year with injuries and lack of playing time, but he possesses some of the highest offensive potential of any forward in the draft. Kostin also has great size, something else that the Lightning could use from their forwards. Could also see the Lightning going after Nic Hague here, a defender with great size and we know how much Steve Yzerman loves drafting out of the OHL.

15. New York Islanders - Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
I see the Islanders going one of two ways with this selection. The first would be targeting a solid defender with size like a Nic Hague. The second, and the way I have them selecting, is a solid two-way center. Lias Andersson would make a lot of sense, but I think Poehling makes more sense. Speed, two-way hustle, and perhaps an underrated ability to produce offensively. The Isles missed the contributions of a guy like Frans Nielson and Poehling projects as that type of player, even if I was slightly underwhelmed by him at the U18's.

16. Calgary Flames - Lias Andersson, HV-71 (SHL)
Andersson is a guy I could see going as high as 9th to Detroit, but he ends up falling a bit to the Flames, who would be happy to add another quality two-way center to their prospect pool. Some question his upside because of how low his offensive numbers were against men as a late '98, but when he's performed against his peers, his offensive production has been stellar. I could also see Calgary going in the opposite direction and taking Nic Hague here, a big defender with a big shot who could (along with Hickey) compliment some of the under-average sized offensive blueliners that the Flames have accumulated for the future.

17. Toronto Maple Leafs - Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)
I really don't know what way the Leafs will go with this pick. They could take Martin Necas, a talented offensive winger from the Czech Republic. They could go with big defender Nic Hague. They could take another talented smaller player in Eeli Tolvanen. But I see them looking to try to add more size to their forward group, which is already relatively small in stature. Ratcliffe is a boom or bust prospect, but if he pans out, he'll be the perfect compliment to guys like Marner and Nylander. A hulking winger who can skate with them, clear room for them, and finish off their passes. Ratcliffe has a booming shot, but he needs to get stronger to use his 6'6 frame more effectively. With how often the Leafs have gone to the OHL of late, this pick makes sense for a lot of reasons.

18. Boston Bruins - Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Necas falls in the draft a bit due to a poor finish to the year (a very underwhelming Five Nations & U18's), but the Bruins scoop him up just inside the Top 20. His strong skating and playmaking ability gives him a lot of offensive potential if he can iron out some of the consistency issues he's had. The Bruins have a quality prospect pool and Necas gives them another potential high impact forward who can play at a high tempo moving forward. Hopefully he's more the guy we saw at the World Junior's (U20) though.

19. San Jose Sharks - Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
The Sharks opt to go with one of the top goal scoring options in the draft this year, despite his lack of size at 5'10. Big shot and tons of speed to burn, his offensive potential is among the highest of any player in this draft. There are concerns about his toughness and overall play though. But given the fact that the Sharks leadership group is aging fast, and they just dealt Nikolai Goldobin, I think San Jose tries to hit a home run with this pick, taking the player remaining who has the highest upside in their eyes.

20. St. Louis Blues - Nic Hague, Mississauga (OHL)
Admittedly, not really sure what I see the Blues doing with this pick. IMO, they've drafted exceptionally well the last few years. However, last year they didn't draft a single defender. They do have some young defenders contributing at the NHL level (Parayko and Edmundson), and close to contributing (Dunn and Walman), but Hague is the type of guy you need to win in the Western Conference. A hulking defender, who at the very least could develop into a solid top 4 shut down guy, but does possess offensive upside because of a big point shot and good hockey IQ inside the offensive zone. Could be the perfect compliment to a guy like Dunn or Walman in the future. And the Blues have most certainly favoured the OHL in recent years.

21. New York Rangers - Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
Remarkably, the Rangers haven't had a first round pick since 2012 (Brady Skjei), and this pick is the only one they have inside the first three rounds this year. Needless to say, it's critical that they pick up a player who can play for them in the future. Thomas is a guy who I feel is a safe bet to play at the NHL because of his skill level and hockey IQ. As a playmaker, he has to be one of the best available and under the tutelage of the Knights' coaching staff, he's only going to get better. There's a couple quality defenders left on the board at this point, but if the Rangers do have a strength in their weak prospect pool, it's on the blueline.

22. Edmonton Oilers - Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (SHL)
Liljegren finally goes after falling pretty significantly. At the beginning of the season, it was thought that he would be a candidate for the top 5, but a season mired by poor offensive production and a bout with mono, really seemed to cause him to lose favor with scouts. But I thought he looked pretty decent at the U18's this year. And he still possesses the type of two-way, top 4 potential that the Oilers could use on the backend. Really the perfect storm that he falls to them at this spot.

23. Arizona Coyotes - Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
The Coyotes had good luck with the last Boston University commit that they drafted (Keller), so why not go right back there. After taking one of the biggest boom/bust players with the 7th overall pick (Makar), the Coyotes take one of the safest players in the draft in Bowers. He's a very well rounded player who still put up some very good numbers in the USHL this year and perhaps that means his offensive potential is being underrated for the next level. However, even though it would mean taking back to back smaller players in draft years, I could also see the Yotes being interested in Kailer Yamamoto here. And if they want a player in the same vein as Bowers, they could look at a guy like Grant Mismash from the USNDP.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets - Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
This isn't the year 1999. Small players can not only play in the NHL in the year 2017, they can succeed as stars. The ultra talented, yet 5'8 forward was among the WHL's leading scorers this year on a relatively weak Spokane team. The Blue Jackets took a similar type of player last year in Vitaly Abramov, but many teams in the NHL have proven that skill wins out more than anything in today's day and age. The Jackets have drafted enough size in recent years to support having a few smaller, skilled players in their lineup.

25. Montreal Canadiens - Grant Mismash, USNDP (USHL)
2008 was the last time the U.S. Under 18 team didn't have a first round pick and while this year looks like it could happen, I believe Mismash will be a first rounder. Was very impressed with him at the Under 18's and he has the size and plays the power game that the Canadiens so desperately need to add to their forward group. He's going to North Dakota next year and will have a few years to continue to develop his offensive game. At worst, the Canadiens could have a solid 3rd line center for the future, but at best, they could have a top 6 power forward who can play the front of the net on the powerplay for them.

26. Chicago Blackhawks - Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Timmins is a smart, skilled, two-way defender who also happens to be a right shot. He's got great vision and rarely makes a mistake with the puck. He also battles hard in the defensive end and shows a fair amount of intensity. I think that the Hawks would love to add another skilled defender to their prospect group and Timmins strikes me as the type of guy that they would look at. They could also go Valimaki or Vaakanainen, but they've loved the OHL in recent years and would have no doubt seen a lot of Timmins this year.

27. St. Louis Blues - Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)
After taking Hague with their first pick, the Blues grab Robertson with their 2nd. Robertson just seems like a Blues' selection to me and I think he fits in really nicely with what they've built moving forward. His skating is rough, but you can't ignore the fact that he was in on nearly 50% of his team's offensive production this year. Big guy with silky mitts who could really find a lot of success playing with a guy like Robby Fabbri. And of course (like I mentioned with Hague), the Blues love them some OHL players.

28. Ottawa Senators - Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
One of the biggest risers in the second half of the season would be Pierre-Olivier Joseph (brother to Tampa prospect Mathieu). He's a smooth skating, two-way defender who brings a lot of potential to the table once he fills out. He's also part of the leadership group in Charlottetown already and is said to be a potential captain for the team next year. The Sens would have gotten a long look at him while scouting Thomas Chabot this year and he fits well within what the organization is trying to do right now.

29. Dallas Stars - Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
Quite the fall for Valimaki, a player a lot of scouting agencies seem to have as a potential lottery candidate. But I know there are concerns over his skating ability from the blueline, and if there's one thing I've learned about covering the draft all these years, it's that defenders with skating decencies almost always drop. With two first rounders, the Stars can take a chance on Valimaki, whose raw offensive ability makes him one of the top offensive blueliners available this year. He has everything you're looking for in a future powerplay QB. 

30. Pittsburgh Penguins - Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Liiga)
The Pens are picking in the first round for only the 2nd time in the last five years. They've got some quality young forwards in the pipeline, but they could definitely add another defender if the fit is right. Well Vaakanainen seems like a perfect fit for the Pens and just happens to be the best player available IMO. I was very impressed with him at the U18's, where he had an impact at both ends of the ice. I think there's more offensive upside than scouts are giving him credit for, but at the very least, he could develop into a dependable second pairing guy, similar to what Olli Maatta should have become already if not for the injuries and illnesses.

31. Nashville Predators - Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Spokane (WHL)
I see the Preds gravitating towards a guy like Anderson-Dolan. A hard working center with some offensive upside. He put up good numbers this year and is one of the youngest players available in the draft this year. I definitely wasn't that impressed with him at the Under 18's, but the Predators love their WHL guys and could really use a player like Anderson-Dolan in their system. I could also see them targeting a guy like Maxime Comtois (for his size and skill package), or a playmaking center like Joni Ikonen. The guy they should target is Jonah Gadjovich, but Preds haven't drafted an OHL player since 2011 so I can't see them using their first on one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

The conclusion to my Top 50 for this year's NHL Entry Draft.

Here is my top 10.

1. Gabe Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
It certainly hasn't been an easy year for Vilardi. Missed the Hlinka with a knee injury that caused him to miss the start of the OHL regular season too. Then, just as he was finding a groove, he had to have an emergency appendectomy. Through it all, he still finished with 61 points in 49 games, which was good for the third best ppg average of any '99 in the OHL (behind #2 and #3 on this list, Tippett and Suzuki). He's the prototypical center for today's NHL game which lives in the Corsi age and thrives on possession time. Vilardi might be the best player in the entire OHL below the hash marks. He has an unreal ability to extend possession in the offensive end by controlling the wall and tiring out opposing defenses. This not only draws countless penalties, but it opens up the ice for his linemates. And Vilardi's second best attribute would be his hockey sense and vision, so he consistently finds those open teammates from the wall or behind the net. In a lot of ways, Vilardi's ability to slow down the play and control the wall reminds me of Joe Thornton in his prime. In addition to having great puck control, Vilardi is also a solid two-way player who has the potential to develop into an elite two-way forward. The only real flaw in his game is his lack of explosive skating ability. To a certain degree, I think these concerns have been overblown. He's not an awful skater, just not an above average one. I'd compare him to Sean Monahan as a skater when he was drafted and that certainly hasn't limited his effectiveness in the NHL. Vilardi is too smart and too skilled to not be an impact player at the NHL level IMO and I think he deserves to be the 3rd player off the board behind Patrick and Hischier come June. Heck, if he has a dominating performance in the Memorial Cup, can he even enter the conversation with those two?

2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
In a lot of ways, Tippett is the antithesis of Vilardi, the player he's gone head to head with all year for the top spot in these OHL rankings. He's a pure goal scorer who possesses speed and skill as a North/South player, but lacks the cerebral component that drives Vilardi's effectiveness. Tippett has the best shot of any player in the OHL, no offense meant to Debrincat, Mascherin, or Sokolov. Everything about it is elite. Lightning quick release that consistently catches defenders and goalies off guard, even though they know his reputation for shooting at any time. Great velocity on his wrist shot. Tremendous ability to protect the puck and use defenders as screens coming down the wing. And the utmost confidence to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. Tippett also possesses great speed. Once he gets going down the wing, he's very hard to stop, especially because you're also trying to take away space from him so that he can't get off his shot. I think his first few steps looked a bit slower this year as he added some weight, but I expect that as he continues to become better conditioned, he will develop into a terrific skater at the pro level. So you've got an explosive sniper with size. In a lot of ways, I see Tippett possessing a Peter Bondra esque type of ability and potential at the NHL level. The negatives have been much discussed. His defensive awareness and overall play without the puck needs to improve. But, I do think that it has improved already from his rookie year and from the start of this season. He has even flashed a desire to engage physically this year and throw his weight around. I think his play without the puck will continue to improve. I think the real area of concern is his hockey sense and ability to utilize his teammates. Too often the play dies on his stick and he's not able to extend possession in the offensive zone because he fails to find an open teammate and loses poise/patience with the puck. I think this is especially evident on the powerplay, as I find him to be a more effective 5 on 5 player right now. Is this something that will develop? That remains to be seen. Harnessing this will also make him a better goal scorer. Let's be real, the goals he scores by catching defenders and goalies off guard in the OHL, won't be goals at the next level. He's going to have to work harder to find the dirty areas and work the middle of the ice better to be a consistent goal scorer at the NHL level. But in a draft year that lacks true star potential, Tippett has to remain a top 10 pick because of the goal scoring potential he possesses and ultimately, that's what wins hockey games. You can listen to Tippett's segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

3. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
SO glad to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves late in the season. Reminds me of Robby Fabbri in his draft year, where it wasn't until later in the season that he finally started to be considered a serious candidate for a selection in the lottery (although he did ultimately fall). The key to Suzuki's game is his combination of amazing hockey sense and non stop motor. I saw NHL.com's Mike Morreale recently say, "Suzuki plays the game like he's got red bull flowing through his veins," and I think that's a very accurate statement. Suzuki isn't the world's quickest skater, but he has great agility and it allows him to really whirl around the offensive zone like a Tasmanian devil. Plus, he's always one step ahead of his competition, which means he's outworking you and out-thinking you. His playmaking ability is top notch and it's no fluke that he was able to be one of the league's leading scorers in the regular season and post season. But his goal scoring ability is something that is underrated. He has a deceptively quick release and he's so adept at getting himself scoring chances. This is a well rounded offensive player. Suzuki also uses his motor to play defensively and on the PK, where he's developed into one of the league's premier penalty killers. One of the comparisons that is thrown around a lot is Joe Pavelski and Suzuki projects as the type of player who can excel in all situations like Pavelski does for the Sharks. Another thing that's not mentioned a lot is Suzuki's late birthday that makes him one of the younger players available. He still has some physical maturity to undergo, so it's scary to think of how good he could be if he gets stronger. To sum it up, with Nick Suzuki, you're getting one of the more complete players in the draft, who if he were a bit bigger and a bit quicker, would probably be competing with Patrick and Hischier for first overall. You can check out Nick's segment on the Pipe-Cast here.

4. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Thomas is an extremely talented playmaker who is coming off a terrific second year with an ultra talented London Knights squad. For much of this year, Thomas was the team's most effective and consistent forward and he deserves major props for that. He's deceptively quick and extremely effective off the rush, where his elusiveness is combined with his vision and creativity. He's far from a perimeter player who thrives in traffic areas despite not possessing elite size or strength. He especially excels on the powerplay, where his vision and passing ability is put on full display. Just makes great decisions with the puck in the offensive end. The only real criticism is that he needs to shoot more. I think Thomas will always be a playmaker, first and foremost, but he needs to keep teams honest by improving his shot and by being more aggressive in using it. Teams overplay him for the pass and he won't take that next step as OHL scoring leader and offensive dynamo until his shot improves and his confidence in using it improves. And while he's a pretty heady two-way player, I'd love to see him play with more consistency away from the puck, similar to the way Nick Suzuki does. As he fills out, Thomas is a guy who possesses a lot of offensive potential and I think he deserves to be considered a candidate for the Top 20 at the draft in June.

5. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Originally had Timmins as the top defender available from the OHL this year, but it's incredibly close. With Hague's tremendous performance in the postseason, I think he's done enough to vault ahead. If you saw Hague in the playoffs, you've seen him at his absolute best; the best hockey he's played as an OHL'er thus far. And I think that's going to resonate pretty heavily with NHL scouts. There were times during the regular season where watching Hague play was extremely frustrating. He had become prone to defensive zone turnovers and was having a real tough time with the forecheck, as he wasn't keeping his feet moving and his decision making was a tad too slow. But he's really cleaned that up this postseason. I think it's still an area of concern for the future, but his improvement late in the year is encouraging. As an offensive player, Hague is certainly not typical. He's not the type to consistently lead an explosive rush up ice or appear dynamic in nature. But once the Steelheads gain entry into the offensive zone, he's a very, very efficient player. He's got one heck of a point shot, but he's also very good at sliding down into scoring lanes, catching opposing forwards puck watching. Hague is also not afraid to pinch in deep to maintain puck possession, similar to a 4th forward. He uses his size and strength exceptionally well along the wall to extend plays. This is similar to the way Brent Burns has become so effective as an offensive player in the NHL today. Defensively, Hague has really developed quite the mean streak and it's made him very difficult to play against. He uses his reach and mobility very well to defend the rush, but uses his size and strength to defend the corners and the front of the net. Again, this postseason, he's been absolutely hammering anyone who dares try to go to the net when he's on the ice. While I'm not entirely sure how much his offensive game translates to the NHL level, and I do think the turnovers and decision making are a concern, there's enough there to suggest that he could develop into a quality top 4 defender at the NHL level. You can listen to Hague's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here.

6. Connor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The true definition of a jack of all trades defender. Timmins excels at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he plays much bigger than his 6'1 frame. He's ultra aggressive in the corners and in front of the net, and while he's not the type to lower the boom with a huge open ice hit, he's adept at engaging physically to win one on one battles. He also makes very good decisions with the puck in his own end, utilizing a great first pass or good mobility to get the puck out of trouble. Offensively, he has great vision and has really grown as a powerplay QB. While I don't think his point shot will ever be a massive weapon, he shows enough as a puck mover to suggest that his offensive abilities could translate to point production at the NHL level. I think really adding an extra gear to his skating ability could help him with that production as he moves forward. When it comes to Hague versus Timmins, I think Hague gets the advantage because of his size and unorthodox offensive contributions. But don't be surprised if Timmins goes first because he's a right shot defender who just screams pro defender because of his all around abilities. 

7. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
No question, Dipietro is one of the better goaltending prospects to come out of the OHL in recent years. About the only thing he doesn't have going for him is size. At 6'0, Dipietro lacks the height and length NHL scouts desire at the position these days. What he lacks in physical stature, he makes up for with elite athleticism, quickness, and intelligence in the crease. Dipietro is easily one of the quickest goalies post to post that I've seen play in the OHL. He gets excellent push offs and he does such a good job reading and anticipating plays that he makes highlight reel saves on a nightly basis. Dipietro also does a great job of controlling his rebounds, limiting second and third chances. You also have to applaud his mental make-up. Since coming into the league, he hasn't missed a beat. As a rookie last year he was already one of the better netminders in the league and has continued that this year, where he was a stabilizing force for an injury prone and inconsistent Windsor team. It'll be exciting to see how he elevates his game for this year's Memorial Cup. The one thing that I will say is that as a "smaller" goalie, he needs to do a better job challenging shooters more consistently. He can't get caught deep in his net, where he's susceptible to being beaten high. There were times this year where that was happening and it's really the only flaw to his game. But he's more than deserving of being a top 45 pick come June. Just a matter of whether NHL scouts can look past his lack of size.

8. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
As the year went on, Robertson just kept getting better, and better. The Frontenacs were far from an offensive juggernaut, but Robertson was one of the league's premier performers in the second half of the year and the playoffs. In his final 25 games of the year (including the playoffs), he had 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points or very nearly two points per game. Overall on the year, if you combine the regular season and playoffs, Robertson was in on nearly 48% of his teams goals this year. That's just insane. Even with the top defensive players of the opposition keying in on him, he managed to remain consistently productive. Robertson is extremely difficult to separate from the puck and that's one of the things that makes him so effective. He's aggressive in driving the net and despite lacking elite speed or acceleration, manages to find his way there with, and without the puck. He's also very intelligent. The puck just seems to find him in the offensive end, especially in the slot and near the crease. His excellent release and hands makes him a great goal scoring prospect, but also his ability to control the cycle makes him a terrific playmaker. While he's far from a pest, his offensive game (the way he contributes offensively) reminds me a lot of Corey Perry. They have similar body types, similar skating strides and found success at the OHL level the same way. Outside of improving his skating, adding that consistent physical element and intensity level (like Perry possesses) is the key to his development. While he's a determined player with the puck, I find that his engagement without the puck lacks consistency. Would love to see him use his size to dominate in puck retrieval and on the backcheck, but he has a tendency to float in the offensive zone, hanging out in the slot. You simply can not ignore his production this year though, even with a few warts.

9. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A '98 October birth date who was one of the OHL's most improved players in his 3rd year in the league. Went from 14 goals to 46 this year. Gadjovich is a really big kid who plays a throw back style of game. It's built on power and he's most effective within 5 feet of the net. He's an absolute bull to deal with in front of the net because he's as strong as an ox, but also smart. Does a really good job shielding off defenders and keeping them on his back. He's also got sensational hands in close. Adept at tip ins, but also has a very good shot that exhibits power and accuracy. Gadjovich is also a very good two-way player who is just as effective without the puck as he is with it. He plays the game hard and relishes in the opportunity to throw his body around. His skating has gotten better every year he's been in the league, and I would actually say he skates reasonably well for a big man now. He'll never be a burner, but he definitely exhibits more power than a guy like Jason Robertson. His overall puck skill, creativity, and playmaking ability are still works in progress. His offensive potential at the NHL level will depend on the continued development of his shot, and the development of his play with the puck. His production dipped a bit in the OHL playoffs, and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you that he could have done more to try and get Owen Sound to the West finals. But he had a pretty damn good year overall. Best case scenario you're looking at a guy like James Neal, and at worst a guy like Joel Ward. I feel like Gadjovich is a pretty safe bet to be an NHL player.

10. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm 
Ratcliffe is a very interesting prospect that is available this year. I could see him being drafted anywhere from 15 to 50. He has some extremely alluring qualities to NHL scouts. First thing you notice is his size at 6'6. And he skates very well, with good speed and acceleration. But he's also not even 200lbs yet. As he fills out, I don't think we truly know how good he could be. Ratcliffe's other best quality is his shot. He has an absolute rocket of a wrist shot and I think he's got big time scoring potential. Once he's able to add that aforementioned strength, he'll be able to generate more scoring chances for himself as he can protect the puck better and look to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice. His physical game is inconsistent and that's another area of his game that will need to improve. Ditto for discipline. Anyone who watched the U18's can tell you that he struggled with some lazy stick penalties and it was the same in Guelph too. He has the potential to be an excellent defensive player though with his size and skating ability. Playing for Guelph is a wild card all in itself. Because of how bad Guelph was at times this year, he had a propensity to disappear at times. He went an entire month without scoring a goal later in the year. And when he's not scoring, that's when the physical game and the cycle game really need to activate to make him more noticeable. Bottom line, the key word with Ratcliffe is potential, which I've already used several times to describe him. Huge kid who could develop as a scoring power forward under the right tutelage and with improvements to his conditioning. You can listen to Ratcliffe's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

11. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Strome takes a bit of a tumble in my final rankings, falling outside of my top 10. The reason for that is two fold. I think Strome struggled a bit down the stretch, in the playoffs and at the U18's, and some of the other guys in that range (like Jason Robertson), did a bit more to edge him out. I'm still a believer in his abilities and NHL potential, I just think that he's more of a mid second round pick and not a first rounder. Outside of the fact that his two brothers were high NHL picks (Ryan and Dylan), I think the thing most people talk about with Matthew is his skating. It's not great, but it's definitely improved since he started in the OHL. While his top end speed may not have improved, his overall agility and balance definitely have IMO. If we're comparing Matthew to his brothers, he's sort of a different breed. He has his brothers' elite vision and playmaking ability, but he plays much more of a North/South power game than either Ryan or Dylan do. This is the part of his game which I really want to see continue to develop. He's at his best when he's physically aggressive, throwing his body around in the corners and driving the net with authority. He can be a tough player to stop then because of how soft his hands are and because of how smart he is.He sees the ice exceptionally well. But this disappears from his game at times and it limits his effectiveness because when he's not aggressive and using his size to slow the game down, his deficiencies in the skating department become evident. This is what happened at the U18's IMO, where he looked a touch behind the play on the bigger ice surface. Even if his skating never becomes an asset, he's smart enough, skilled enough, and big enough to make an impact as a complimentary scoring line option (think of a guy like Justin Williams or RJ Umberger).

12. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Easily one of my favourite players available in this draft class. His offensive abilities are vastly underrated IMO. Not to the point where I think he can be a first line player in the NHL. But I think he could easily have the same sort of impact a guy like Boone Jenner is having in the NHL currently, as a 2nd/3rd liner, 40 point player. When he's played against his peers on the big stage, this guy has consistently elevated his play. He was terrific at the Top Prospect's Game this year. And he was easily Canada's most consistent and dangerous forward at the U18's, where he led Canada in scoring. His stats with Hamilton this year weren't terrific. But he was consistently receiving 3rd line minutes and saw very little powerplay time. He also went through a bout of mono towards the end of the year that really limited his effectiveness down the stretch, leading into the playoffs. Bottom line is this, Entwistle is an incredibly complete player that coaches at the next level are going to love. He's got size at 6'3. He skates exceptionally well. He competes at both ends. He kills penalties. He can play all three forward positions. He throws his body around and is an effective player along the boards. There are so many things to like about his game. As an offensive player, he flashes great skill with the puck in transition, but doesn't utilize this enough, often deferring to teammates. I truly do believe that once he gains confidence, we'll start to see the points pile up.

13. Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
You're probably going to be surprised to hear this, considering his poor playoff production offensively, but Lodnia is a guy I've actually gained a real appreciation for in the postseason. I saw a lot of the Otters in the postseason and I consistently came away impressed with Lodnia's awareness and effort at both ends of the ice. In particular, he had so many quality defensive plays and reads that prevented goals or at least disrupted great scoring chances. Offensively, you just know that this guy is going to explode next year when the Otters' big guns graduate. But it's that increased effort without the puck that is going to make him a favourite of NHL scouts despite his lack of size. My only other concern is that I'm not sure he's got a great "top" speed for an undersized player. His first few steps and ability to alter pace is terrific though, so if he could really elevate that top gear, he'd be that much more dangerous. The hands, intelligence and shot are all top notch too, and point to him becoming a potential game breaker at the OHL level, at the very least. Like I said, this is a guy who has really grown on me late in the year.

14. Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Ruzicka has kind of become a polarizing prospect for this draft. When the season started, he was considered a potential lottery selection, but his down year offensively in adjusting to the OHL has dropped him more to the mid second round range. The real issue at play is consistency. I saw him have some very, very strong games this year where he completely dominated shifts with his power and skill. This was especially true at the U18's, where I thought he had an excellent tournament for Slovakia. But there were also a couple games this year where he was completely invisible, and I think that's a bit alarming. We're talking about a 6'4, 200lbs forward who should be able to dominate more than one shift a game, or at the very least be noticeable. But his physical intensity really seems to waver. He's got a heck of a shot and release, but too often he's kept to the perimeter. He's at his best working the wall, and exploding to the net to create scoring chances, but again, this aggressiveness isn't shown nearly enough. I've also seen, read, and heard some question his hockey sense and overall offensive potential for the next level. I think those criticisms can also be considered valid. Is it a lack of effort in finding consistent scoring lanes, or is it a lack of vision? However, we also need to remember that we're talking about a young kid playing away from home for the first time. Consistency issues do tend to plague most imports playing in their first CHL season. Ruzicka looked mighty impressive at international tournaments this year, where he was able to play for his country. I have a hard time seeing Ruzicka dropping out of the top 50 come draft day, considering his size and skill package.

15. Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights
The next Christian Dvorak? That's definitely what the NHL GM who drafts him will be hoping for. To gain an appreciation for Formenton, one really has to have seen the Knights play a lot this year. There are times where Formenton barely sees the ice and is used sparingly (like the OHL playoffs). And there are other times where he's slotted higher in the lineup and is able to showcase his speed and skill playing with other highly skilled playmakers. There's no question that he's one of the quickest players in the OHL. He can truly fly. He's also aggressive in using that speed to attack the middle of the ice and shows little fear in playing near the crease, showing a great release which suggests great scoring potential. Another thing to factor in is physical immaturity. Formenton is one of the youngest players available in the draft this year and he's coming off only his first season in the OHL. This could be a guy who is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of. I think the one thing that I question is his vision and overall playmaking ability. I see the goal scoring potential, 100%. And I think he impacts the game in a lot of different ways. But I'm not sure I see a future top 6 difference maker at the next level. But I think there will be more than one NHL GM out there who does. Saw the Hockey News recently compared him to Jason Chimera and that's an interesting comparison if the offensive game never truly develops.

16. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Frost, like Entwistle, has also been a favourite of mine among this crop of OHL prospects. He isn't blessed with the physical skills that Entwistle has been, but there are a lot of things to like about his game. He has the speed and agility you like to see in smaller/average sized centers. He also really processes the game well. Right now, his game is most noticeable on the powerplay where he makes such quick decisions with the puck and is fearless in using his speed to attack open lanes in the defense. And despite lacking in the strength department, Frost does a good job as a defensive player and faceoff man. Once he gets stronger, I think you'll see his production really increase. Thought he played very well in the playoffs, and finished the season off quite well. One thing that could also really benefit his game is improving his shot. Needs to get more velocity behind it and keep defenders guessing, preventing them from playing the pass off the rush. But I really like Frost's potential as a two-way top 6 center at the NHL level. Think David Krejci, Vincent Trocheck.

17. Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm
Up and down year for Samorukov. Started off the year very well, but really hit a wall through the middle of the season, up until the final couple of months. Then he finished the year exceptionally well, including a very strong performance for Russia at the U18's. This is the type of inconsistency I was talking about in Adam Ruzicka's write up. When he's off, Samorukov looks lost on the ice. Turnovers a plenty and a lot of puck chasing defensively. A lot of that can be attributed to the team he played on this year in Guelph though, who struggled as a team with turnovers and consistency in effort. But when he was on, which was the vast majority of the second half, he looked like a legitimate NHL prospect. Samorukov is an excellent skater who showcases a great ability as a puck rusher. But he also has a big point shot, which he was able to really improve the accuracy of later in the year. Defensively, I really like his intensity. Sure, he runs around a little too much sometimes. And sure, his reads could use some work. But, he plays the game hard in his own end and really makes opposing forwards keep their heads up. There's a lot of potential to develop into a quality two-way defender with Samorukov IMO, and as such I think he's really worked himself back into the conversation as a 2nd round pick come June.

18. Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
I'm a big believer in Schnarr's potential. If he puts it all together, he could be the guy from this draft where people say, "how on earth was this guy a 3rd round pick?" He did a lot of great things in his first OHL season, considering how badly Guelph struggled. Big, rangy centers (6'3) with offensive skill are hard to find and Schnarr definitely could end up as a top 6 player at the next level if he develops properly. He's got good speed. He shows a lot of promise as a puck carrier with the skill to beat defenders one on one. He also shows a lot of promise as a possession darling, who can control the wall and play below the hash marks with his size. Schnarr also plays hard and flashes a power game. Problem is he just hasn't been able to put all of that together to dominate games. But there are shifts where you say, "man, this guy could be really good one day." I think it all comes down to a lack of strength. He gets knocked off the puck too easily and really needs to improve his balance. At the U18's, I think this was evident. Schnarr is going to be a big part of a Guelph team that could dominate the OHL in a few years. I really see him as an underrated prospect for this year's draft.

19. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
On talent alone, there's no way that Chmelevski should have been the 24th highest scoring U18 player in the OHL this year. He oozes offensive swagger and charisma. His skating is top notch. His skill with the puck and creativity is top notch. His shot is pro caliber and a major weapon. So why the lack of production? There are major consistency issues related to intensity levels, with and without the puck. Former 67's head coach Jeff Brown was very critical of Chmelevski at different times this year because of it. He needs to be more aggressive in using his speed to attack the net, and be more engaged away from the puck. If he can flip that switch, he has among the highest offensive potential of any player on this list.

20. Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Believe it or not, Phillips is the highest rated '99 Ontario born defender on this list, however there's no denying that his draft status took a bit of a hit this year. Came into the year as a potential first round candidate, but now looks more like a 2nd-3rd rounder. I think a lot of that has to do with his slow start to the year. I thought he struggled early on in the year with trying to do too much, and as such was a little too turnover prone in his own end and the neutral zone. But, he got better and better as the season went on. His play was a big reason why the Attack were the best team in the OHL in the second half. In the final 27 games of the regular season, Phillips had 31 points (including 9 goals). Pro-rate that kind of production and you've got a Max Kaminsky candidate. His confidence offensively really soared and the production matched it. He really cut down on his turnovers by making smarter decisions with the puck, picked his spots better to lead or jump up in the rush, and looked better running the point on the powerplay. Defensively, I thought Phillips also really improved. He has fantastic mobility and as such is a terrific one on one defender who is very hard to get around. And he uses his wide base (6'0, 200lbs) to play tough in the corners. Phillips is built very similarly to Leafs pick Travis Dermott and possesses the same type of potential at the next level. The only blip later in the year was a poor performance in the playoff series against Erie, but I don't think that should take away from a fantastic second half. You can listen to Phillips' segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

21. Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Former 5th overall pick in the OHL Draft, Gallant was one of the most improved players in the league this year after going goalless last year. Love the intensity level that this guy plays with. One of the toughest defensive forwards in the OHL, in addition to being one of the league's premier body checkers and faceoff men. He's no slouch offensively either. Has very good hands in close and he has good vision off the cycle, creating through patience and strength in puck protection. If he can improve his shot and improve his ability to play in transition (carrying/receiving a top speed), he could definitely be a quality 2nd/3rd line player at the next level. And if his offensive game stagnates, you've still got a prospect who profiles as a top notch defensive center and penalty killer if he continues to upgrade his skating ability. There's a lot of current Leaf Leo Komarov in Gallant's game. You can listen to Gallant's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here.

22. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
For those familiar with the OHL, Jack is a very similar player to his brother Sam (a former captain of the Sarnia Sting and current member of St. FX), in the sense that he's a jack of all trades type. But I think it's fair to say that Jack is a more dynamic player, which explains why Jack's 18 year old season was better offensively than any season Sam ever produced in the league. I think his smarts, with and without the puck, is Jack's best attribute. This was evident at the U18's, where he showed an excellent ability to find scoring lanes and finish off chances. Before a strong performance at the U18's, he had a terrific OHL playoffs, where his 15 points was 3rd highest of draft eligible players (behind Suzuki and Robertson). And before that, he finished the regular season very strongly with 23 points in his final 20 games. We've got a good sized center with good production, so why isn't he rated higher? At this point, Studnicka is only an average skater. Lacks an elite top speed and acceleration, relying on awareness to be one step quicker than the opposition. I think there's also a sense from scouts that he's probably more of a 3rd line center at the next level and not a top 6 forward. But if you're drafting in the 3rd round and on and you can get yourself a quality, intelligent pivot, you've got to jump on it. Studnicka is a very solid prospect who I think has some upside if he can continue to make improvements to his skating and creativity.

23. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Hoefenmayer is an interesting defender available for this year. He had a very strong season offensively for the 67's, and finished very strongly with a great performance against Mississauga in round one of the playoffs. He has a lot of potential as a puck rusher, showcasing great skill cutting through the neutral zone. He's aggressive in jumping into the rush as the 3rd or 4th man in and has great scoring instincts for a defender. When coupled with an excellent point shot, it gives Hoefenmayer good offensive potential for the next level. Defensively, he has good positioning and smarts, but I do wish that he was more aggressive in attacking the corners and defending the front of his net, especially given his average size. This is particularly interesting because Hoefenmayer was actually touted as a very physical, hard nosed defender at the midget level, but that hasn't translated to the OHL level yet. Could be a confidence/strength thing. I think the other issue is that I see Hoefenmayer as only an average skater. Certainly not below average, but I think he lacks true elusiveness as a rusher, and smoothness laterally/backwards. Good potential here once the physical skills improve and a guy well worth a 3rd/4th round selection IMO. 

24. Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Not as high on Rasanen as some of my fellow draft prognosticators are, but I do see the allure. 6'6, 210lbs, right shot defender with offensive potential. Skates well moving forward and with his reach, actually is a pretty good puck rusher. Tough to separate from the puck once he gets across the blueline. He also possesses a big point shot and has definite potential as a powerplay QB. Rasanen also flashes great ability as a physical player, and has the ability and desire to really lay out forwards cutting across the blueline. But, I actually find him to be lacking defensive intensity in the corners and in front of the net. I want to see him be much harder to play against, utilizing that size to win more one on one puck battles. He's also extremely turnover prone in the defensive end and really struggles to cope with the forecheck. Lastly, his footwork defensively needs work as his overall agility/lateral movement is awkward and causes him to be an occasional pylon off the rush. However, something worth noting is that Rasanen is a very raw player who is still growing into his body and lacks experience. With the right wok ethic, he could be quite the player. Just a few too many warts for me to consider him with a top two round pick, but that's likely where he goes.

25. Kirill Maksimov - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
What a difference a change of scenery can make. With Saginaw, the formerly highly touted OHL draft prospect was floundering and looked like a long shot to hear his name called in June (6 goals in 37 games). But a midseason deal to Niagara completely changed his fortunes and brought out the best in Maksimov. Including the playoffs (where he had 4 goals in 4 games), Maksimov had 19 goals in 33 games. Pro-rate that production and you've got a 6'2, speedy winger with 35+ goals on the season. That would put him right up there with the production of others in this draft class receiving first round consideration. Not saying that Maksimov deserves first round consideration. But with the way he finished the year and with his strong performance at the U18's, I think he deserves to be selected in the first three rounds. His potential is sky high. Consistency has always been the issue with him, but the light bulb really did seem to go off in Niagara. Finally saw him using his size to drive the net, with and without the puck, where he could use his great hands and great release to be a consistent goal scorer. We also finally saw him using his speed in puck pursuit and to be a major factor on the forecheck. This was something that was very evident at the U18's. His skill level and goal scoring potential is through the roof, so if he's finally put it all together, he could look like an eventual steal for whatever team drafts him. A true draft wild card.

26. Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
It was a tough year for Paquette, who was initially my favourite OHL defender for this draft heading into the season. Started off by missing the Ivan Hlinka with an arm injury. When he eventually started playing with Kingston, he just never really seemed to find a groove. I expected his offensive game to really blossom this year, but instead it regressed. He's an excellent skater and as a rookie, he would occasionally take chances by leading the rush. But this year, he played too reserved. Even his breakout passes took a hit and he's become the type that looks hesitant to play with the puck at times. I know he considers himself a stay at home defender, but he is 100% capable of involving himself more in the offensive side of things. Defensively, he wasn't as effective as he was as a 17 year rookie either. Looked unsure of himself at times, whether to take the body or play the puck and because of it, was a passenger way too much. At 6'3, 200lbs, he needs to be a tough guy to play against. So why is he ranked 26th still? Because I still really believe in him as a player and prospect. There were games this year where he was still the most effective defender on the ice. And he's still a big kid with great mobility, who has excellent potential as a shutdown defender. He just needs to regain his confidence in his abilities and take charge out there. Showed way too much promise as a rookie last year to give up on him.


27. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Tale of two seasons for Meireles. First half of the year, he was an aggressive, in your face winger who played at a high tempo and showed great skill. As such, he was garnering praise and attention for the draft, despite being undersized at 5'10. Second half of the year, his game really seemed to lose focus. The aggressiveness and truculence in his game slowly dissipated and it seemed like he was trying too hard to be an impact offensive player, losing sight of what made him such an effective contributor in the first half. There's no question that Meireles is a talented offensive player. He's a great skater and can be an impact playmaker. But the key to his development moving forward is the rediscovery of the power and intensity in his game. Being that shift disturbing, tenacious wall presence that can be a forechecking demon. That's the guy who was the 12th overall pick in the OHL Draft, a member of the CCHL all rookie team in 2016, and a consistent force to start this year. As an undersized player, his poor second half will probably hurt him at the draft, but the potential is there for him to bounce back in a big way in 2017/18. One other thing that I'll add is that he also needs to work on his shot and release in order to capitalize on the scoring chances he was creating early on in the year. You can listen to Meireles' segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

28. Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
All things considered, Nyman (pronounced "Newman") had a good first year in the OHL with Kingston. Considering his lack of stature (5'10, 160lbs), I think some would have liked to have seen better offensive production. This is especially true given his dominance at the Hlinka in the summer. But one has to take into the account how low scoring the Frontenacs were this year. His 51 points were 2nd most among forwards on the team. He did average a point per game in the playoffs though (where he was excellent), and continued his dominance internationally at the U18's. He truly is an offensive sparkplug and had he been on a better offensive team with more skill up front, I think we would have seen him well over the point per game mark. He's got speed, skill, smarts. Moves the puck with precision and makes quick decisions in the offensive end. This was extremely noticeable at the U18's, playing with Vesalainen and Ikonen, two players who could match his speed and skill. Only thing he's missing is strength. Gets pushed off the puck too easily in the offensive end and as such, he's not able to sustain possession long enough to put his vision or creativity to use. Hopefully an NHL team recognizes his talents and uses a pick at some point on him, because the offensive potential is very high.

29. Marian Studenic - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Really took me a long time to get on the Studenic train. Through the first half, he was invisible when I saw Hamilton play. I couldn't, for the life of me, see the hype surrounding him and couldn't understand why he was receiving high draft grades. But later on in the year, it was opposite. Every time I saw him play, he was terrific. Needless to say, consistency is the main issue here. Studenic is an exceptionally talented offensive player with speed to burn, great skill with the puck, and a great shot release. But when he's not producing scoring chances, he's a relatively invisible player. As a late '98, he needs to take massive steps forward next year if he's back in the OHL with Hamilton. But the potential is there.

30. Maksim Sushko - Forward - Owen Sound Attack 
Sushko is a really interesting prospect available this year. As a native to Belarus, he came to the OHL as a relative unknown, but ended up having a pretty good season for the Attack. He's only average sized, but I was consistently impressed by Sushko's ability and desire to drive the net. Has good puck skill too and can make defenders miss one on one. Overall, he's a pretty good two-way player too. Has good effort on the backcheck and was a good penalty killer this year, using his speed and energy to be disruptive. Considering he played a depth role for the majority of the year, Sushko's stat line was pretty impressive, especially in the playoffs. Even still, I don't know if I have a good read on him as an NHL prospect. Does he have top 6 potential? Is his game suited for a checking line role at the next level? He has a lot of interesting qualities to him as a player, but I don't know where I would draft him or what to make of his future. Is there an NHL team out there with a more concrete opinion of him?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 31-50

The 2nd part of my Top 50 OHL players available for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. This is where we actually dive into the Top 50, with players ranked 50 through to 31.

There are some really interesting players in this grouping. It honestly wouldn't shock me if only half the guys listed here get drafted, as I don't think the depth from the OHL is terrific this year. But, there are some real diamonds in the rough, who if they put it together could really turn into great pro hockey players.

31. Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Keating is consistently among the highest scoring forwards of his age group. Last year, his 32 points were 5th most of any '99 rookie. This year, his 63 points were the 5th most of any '99. The key to this is his terrific hockey sense. He has a great understanding of how to play and move without the puck. He finds scoring lanes and is adept at finding open teammates off the wall. He's certainly not flashy and he's not the type of guy you'll overtly notice from shift to shift. But when all is said and done, you'll check the score sheet and he'll have 2-3 points. Keating has also come a long way as a two-way player and has become a very responsible backchecker who also flashes a physical game. So why on earth is he rated 31st among OHL'ers? I think there are projection issues at play here. Keating is only average sized at 6'0, but is far from an elite skater. He really lacks that explosive first step. And while the hockey sense is good, I think there are some questions as to whether the individual skill level is high enough for him to be a top 6 forward at the NHL level. Which would make him a classic tweener in the eyes of NHL scouts. This explains his consistently low ranking (across most draft rankings) despite the production. That said, skating can be improved and I like the improvements he has made to become a more complete player. I wouldn't hesitate to take a chance on him in the mid rounds. Could easily be this year's Taylor Raddysh.

32. Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Still shocked that NHL Central Scouting didn't list him in their final rankings. Carson is a big power forward who was one of only 5 '99's to score 30 goals in the league this year. Usually scouts drool over that type of production from a big kid. This is especially true when you consider that the Wolves have been grooming Carson to play center (even though his NHL future probably lies on the wing). And is even more impressive when you factor in his 4 shorthanded goals this year (more than he scored powerplay goals). Carson is as complete a player you'll find available for this draft, with goal scoring ability, physicality, defensive intelligence, and leadership potential. So why on Earth is he left unranked by NHL CSS? I think it comes down to skating and projecting his offensive tools at the next level. He's definitely got some "heavy boots," in the sense that he struggles to get separation off the rush and coming off the wall. He's able to use his size very effectively at this level, but ultimately the skating will need to improve for him to be an NHL player. In a lot of ways, Carson reminds me of Nick Paul in his draft year. The same concerns were raised about him, and he's turned into a pretty quality NHL prospect.

33. Matthew Villalta - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Exploded onto the scene in the OHL this year after signing as a free agent this offseason. Guys like Villalta are the reason why the OHL chose to install a midget draft. He went an astounding 25-3 this year with some impressive statistics (like a .918 save percentage). I will caution you that these stats should come with a bit of an asterisk though, as he played the vast majority of his games against the OHL's weaker competition (the Hounds gave the tougher assignments to Raaymakers). And he did struggle in the playoffs. But, anyway you slice it, he had a solid rookie year. Villalta is your typical butterfly goalie, with economical movements. He does a great job tracking the play and taking away the bottom of the net. He's grown a lot the last two years, so he's still learning how to use that in the net, but this guy has everything you look for in a netminder nowadays. Moving forward, rebound control and ability to fight through traffic are the two biggest areas that I've seen need improvement. 

34. Jacob McGrath - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
In a lot of ways, McGrath is a lot different than Villalta. Almost an antithesis. He's a highly touted goaltending prospect who's consistently been considered among the best goaltenders of his age group in Ontario. His game is built around his quickness and athleticism. Moves exceptionally well post to post and as such, makes a lot of "highlight reel" type saves. When he's on and tracking the play, he can be very, very difficult to beat. But when he's off, he gets himself out of position and can have a tendency to give up soft goals that spiral into more soft goals. Call McGrath the Dylan Wells of this year's draft. But he's shown glimpses of being so good that he has to be drafted this year, with someone taking a chance that he's able to find consistency in his game, behind an up and coming Sudbury team. He has the potential to be one of the best goaltenders in the OHL in the coming years.

35. Ryan McGregor - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Tale of two seasons for McGregor. I thought he was quite strong the first half of the year, but he really, really struggled in the 2017 calendar year. He had only one goal in the final 27 games of the regular season and ultimately barely bested his offensive output from his rookie year. But I still like him as a prospect and believe in his abilities. For McGregor it's all about adding strength. He has absolutely fantastic speed (probably top 5 for his age group in the OHL), but he struggles with being able to utilize it to be an impact offensive player because he's too easily pushed around with and without the puck. And it's not a matter of effort either. I find him to have a high motor and the type of player who attempts to engage physically at both ends. But it's that lack of bulk that prevents him from being consistently noticeable. I think he has the skill level to put up points and play in the top 6 too and I think we'll see that at some point during his OHL career. 

36. Brady Lyle - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Lyle is a mobile two-way defender who plays for his hometown OHL team (as a North Bay native). He was drafted into the OHL as an offensive defender, but his defensive game has improved a lot; more than his offensive game has IMO. At times, he gets caught standing still in the defensive zone and plays a little too soft defending the rush, but his reads and overall defensive positioning has improved a lot. Offensively, he's been pretty conservative and hasn't yet found the confidence to fully utilize his terrific skating ability to be a factor leading the rush; to be an impact playmaker. As a powerplay QB, his actions are still a little stiff too and he really needs to work on his point shot. Overall, Lyle is a raw defensive prospect. Good size and excellent mobility, but unrefined in other areas. The potential is high if he's able to put everything together under the tutelage of Stan Butler.

37. Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Easily one of the more underrated players available for the draft this year IMO. Jones isn't a huge kid at 6'0, 185lbs, but he plays a lot bigger than that. He definitely revels in playing the pest type role and consistently gets himself involved in scrums and is generally a tough player to go up against. He's also a committed two-way player whose effort, in combination with his smarts, makes him effective on the backcheck. Adding strength would definitely improve that effectiveness away from the puck even more, as the will is certainly there. Offensively, this guy was one of the most important players on a young IceDogs team this year. His scoring came in bunches and consistency will need to be improved upon, but the potential is there for him to be a big time scorer in this league. Again, it all comes down to his smarts and playmaking ability. Has great vision and really makes good decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. As the physical attributes improve (bigger, stronger, faster), this is a guy that could really look like a steal in a few years.

38. Fedor Gordeev - Defense - Flint Firebirds
I can almost guarantee you that Gordeev is going to get selected higher than I have him ranked come June. This is a 6'6 defender who plays mean and who is quite mobile for his size. He also improved drastically in the second half of the season. It seemed like his play in his own end improved every month, with him becoming increasingly comfortable using his size to be patient in the open ice, but aggressive in close quarters. By season's end, I think most Flint fans would tell you that Gordeev had become one of the team's best defenders. Offensively, I'm not sure how  much potential there is outside of a big point shot. He still struggles with making clean exit passes and can be prone to defensive zone turnovers. But even those were fewer in the second half, as he looked to keep things simple. Kind of this year's Keaton Middleton.   

39. Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion
As a late '98, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that Thilander under performed this year. I know that there is a learning curve for players coming from Europe, regardless of age. But Thilander's fall from potential first round pick, to being rated in the mid rounds is a justified one IMO. So here's the thing, Thilander is a solid defender. Has good mobility. Makes reasonably smart decisions with the puck in his own end. Does a good job keeping pucks in at the line and moving the puck on the powerplay. Shows good awareness and positioning in the defensive end. But he's lacking in stand out qualities. He's average sized and I'm not sure he's good enough offensively to be a true puck mover or PP guy at the next level. And he's not going to be a shutdown defender with his lack of physical skills. So where does that leave him? He could easily be a serviceable third pairing guy who doesn't hurt you (think Matt Hunwick), but I'm just not sure I see a lot of upside.

40. Dylan Seitz - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Big, physical forward who is coming off his first year in the OHL. Largely played as a checking line forward for the Rangers this year, but when he jumped up in the lineup, he did not look out of place on a scoring line. Overall, he was incredibly inconsistent offensively this year. Saw him play a few games this year where he was one of the better players on the ice (like a 6 shot, 1 goal performance against the Wolves in December). But then he disappears in stretches where he's a non factor offensively. Needs to find balance in his physical game and being able to generate scoring chances. That's often something that power forward type prospects have trouble doing at this level. But as mentioned, Seitz is a very determined physical player. He relishes in the opportunity to plaster an opponent along the boards on the forecheck, is active and effective along the wall, and will even drop the mitts. The question is, how much offensive upside is there? 

41. Sean Durzi - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Believe it or not, among draft eligibles, Durzi was actually one of the better performers from the backend in the second half. In the final 51 games of the year (including the playoffs), Durzi had 41 points. That's impressive production for one of the better teams in the OHL. After splitting time between forward and defense last year as a rookie, the late '98 Mississauga native emerged as a top 4 defenseman for the Attack this year and moving forward. He's got a good point shot, even if the 2 goals this year doesn't suggest it. Does a great job with the puck in his own end too and really makes a good first pass. Skating is good, but he does lack elite speed that would make him a major factor as that "dynamic" sort of puck rusher. And without elite size, he relies on good positioning and smarts in the defensive end. Similar to Thilander, I see Durzi as a potentially dependable defender at the next level, but I'm just not sure what potential he has to develop as a dominant force at either end.

42. Liam Hawel - Forward - Guelph Storm
Hawel is a high potential center with great size at 6'5. Tons of opportunity for him to grow into a terrific playmaker. A former first rounder to SSM, Hawel was moved to Guelph this year in the Noah Carroll deal. He played a bit better for Guelph and was a surprising addition to the Canadian U18 team (where I felt he struggled with limited ice time). With Hawel, I think it's all about adding strength. He's 6'5, but listed at under 180lbs. He gets pushed off the puck way too easily for a big guy and his effectiveness below the hash marks is severely limited. He has skill with the puck and I think there's definitely hockey sense at both ends, but he's not physically engaged enough to be a difference maker. And added strength would also add power to his stride, allowing him to get separation to utilize that size on net drives. In addition to that, Hawel has to improve at the dot if he wants to stay down the middle. Among players with over 500 draws this year, Hawel's faceoff percentage was one of the worst (43%). But as I said, Hawel has potential because there is skill in a 6'5 center package. Definitely a guy I'd take in the mid-late rounds to see how his game develops.

43. Nick Deakin-Poot - Forward - Guelph Storm
A favourite of mine, even if I don't think there is a ton of NHL potential there. You're drafting Deakin-Poot in hopes that he can develop into a solid 3rd-4th line energy guy. But there's no doubt in my mind that if he continues to improve, there could be a place for him at the NHL level. He's 6'4, 200lbs and is extremely quick. He closes in on defenders very quickly on the forecheck and as his reads get better, he could be the type of guy who generates a ton off turnovers. Plays a physical game too and knows his role is to muck it up in the corners and in front of the net. The stat line isn't impressive, but if you watch the Storm play regularly, you'd know that this guy could have easily potted 20 goals this year if he could bury his chances. Gets himself in scoring position, but just couldn't finish on a lot of plays. That needs to improve. As does his defensive zone awareness. With his size and speed, he should be a terrific penalty killer, but that part of his game is a work in progress. Listed as a center, but he played on the wing mostly this year, which is where I think he'll stay. Like I said, you're not looking at a potential scoring line player at the next level, but if he can improve his finishing ability and find more consistency in his overall game, this is a guy who could easily be a solid NHL role player.

44. Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
Admittedly, one of the guys I had a really tough time getting a read on this year and I wonder if NHL scouts will be the same because of his lack of playing time, (it was largely Jeremy Brodeur's show in Oshawa this year). Only saw him play twice this year, although one was a terrific performance in the playoffs. He's your standard butterfly goalie who tracks the play well and is aggressive in challenging shooters. Moves well in his crease too. Rebound management has been a bit of an issue, but that's correctable. But are we looking at a future NHL netminder? Honestly, I just don't know. But what I do know is that Keyser is going to get a chance to be the starter for a very good Oshawa team next year. 

45. Gera Poddubnyi - Forward - Erie Otters 
Erie's version of Alex Formenton, although not quite as dynamic. Poddubnyi has been buried on a very strong Erie team this year, but I don't think there's any question that his game improved leaps and bounds from start to finish, even if the stats don't show it. If you watch the Otters play, this guy makes one play a game in the offensive end that really catches your attention and makes you think that if he wasn't on the 4th line, he could be putting up some pretty good numbers. In particular, I thought he had an excellent playoff run for Erie. Poddubnyi showcases some slick puck skills in transition and his ability to play through traffic really improved in the second half and playoffs. Really hoping that the Otters keep him around next year and only utilize one of their Import picks. I think he's a real sleeper. 

46. Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
Even as a late '98, Fulcher remains a prospect with a lot of potential who just hasn't put everything together quite yet. He's got size at 6'3. He's one of the most athletic goaltenders in the OHL and is lightning quick post to post. But he struggles rebounding from bad goals and still struggles from bad reads. He started the year quite well and looked to be on track to be a top 100 pick come June. But his second half was a disaster. Mind you, the Bulldogs brought in Dawson Carty so his playing time was cut, but the stat line wasn't pretty. In his appearances after January 11 (11 of them), he posted an .876 save percentage and a GAA of over 4. But this guy is still the goaltender of the future for a talented Hamilton team and if he could ever figure it out, we'd be talking about a front line goaltender in the OHL.  

47. Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Coskey was one of the more disappointing '99's in the league this year. Showed a lot as a rookie and was highly regarded, but I'm not sure he took a major step forward this year on a disappointing Saginaw squad. Coskey is a quality playmaking winger who shows potential as a high scoring forward who can make quality plays off the wall and off the rush. But consistency in fighting through traffic and maintaining sustained pressure really limited his effectiveness in the offensive end this year. Coskey also really needs to improve his shot and willingness to play the middle of the ice if he wants to score more goals in this league. Quite honestly, kind of reminds me of the way Spencer Watson looked in his draft year and I think Coskey projects as a similar prospect moving forward. 

48. Joseph Gareffa - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Tiny kid at 5'7, but this is the year 2017, not 1999. More and more, small players are proving that they can play at the NHL level pending that they have the right combination of talent and will. And I think Gareffa has the things that you look for in finding successful smaller players. For one, he's one of the better skaters in the OHL. He's extremely quick and his ability to play in transition is one of the best in this OHL draft crop IMO. Secondly, he's pretty fearless and attacks high traffic areas as if he were 6'3 and not 5'7. Lastly, he's strong on the puck and wins his share of loose puck battles despite giving up a few inches on most matchups. This is a high skilled guy who I believe will one day be a top 5 scorer in the OHL. I don't think he gets drafted, but he definitely deserves notice on a list like this for being one heck of a hockey player.

49. Shaw Boomhower - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
One of the hardest working players in the OHL. Upside is most definitely limited at the next level, but he plays the game consistently hard and that's made him an endearing player. The late '98 forward was an OHL rookie this year after signing with Mississauga as an FA (after a solid year with Wellington of the OJHL). Only average sized at 5'11, but Boomhower plays the game much larger than that. Extremely active on the forecheck and the backcheck. He's one on the more physical forwards in the league. And he knows his role is to drive the middle of the ice to create plays. Again, offensive upside is limited, but there's definitely enough there to suggest that he could be a quality energy/role player at the next level. As he gains confidence, we could even see his offensive game grow as he occasionally flashes some pretty nifty skill with the puck. Going to be a long summer for him though after taking that bad boarding penalty in OT of game 5 that gave Erie the OHL Championship.

50. Zach Roberts - Forward - Owen Sound Attack 
Nephew of Leafs' legend and notorious strength coach Gary Roberts. Plays the game pretty similar to his Uncle. Roberts is a hard nosed winger who excelled in a depth role for the Attack this year. Really does a good job driving the net and shows good hands in close that suggests he could be a potential goal scorer at this level. Also does a good job of opening up space for his linemates, despite only being 6'0. Roberts is just a really solid lunch pail type. Moving forward, I would say improving his speed and overall skating ability would do wonders for increasing his offensive output. With his tenacity and skill near the crease, being able to be quicker to loose pucks would really make him a more dangerous all around player.