Friday, July 31, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Edmonton Oilers

Connor who?? The Oilers have a ton of riding on the development of their OHL prospects.

1. Connor McDavid - Erie Otters
The best player that I've ever seen in the OHL and now it's time for him to move on to face a new challenge. While I'm sure every OHL fan was hoping McDavid would end up on their favourite NHL team, there's no way any of them are cheering against him. McDavid had one heck of a season in 2014/2015. Dominating on the score sheet. Winning the Red Tilson. Winning World Junior Gold. Dominating in the playoffs. Sure, a Memorial Cup would have looked great, but beggars can't be choosers. His 49 points in 20 playoff games speaks for itself. And even though it's hard to fathom it, his game actually continues to improve. He was less predictable offensively this year, changing up pace consistently and not just relying on his speed entering the zone. He was also considerably better in all three zones, showing a consistent commitment to the back check. McDavid is just one heck of a hockey player. So what can we expect from him at the NHL level next year? There's no question that I expect McDavid to be physically ready for the challenges of the NHL. Not only is he talented, but he's also committed. With his speed, skill, and hockey sense, I have no doubt that he will instantly become Edmonton's top player and a serious candidate to hit the point per game mark. Will the Oilers as a team be better next year? That's up for debate. But as far as McDavid goes, I expect him to find instant success.

2. Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like McDavid, Nurse had a very successful final season in the OHL. In all honesty, I'm not sure his game improved a ton from his 2013/2014 season, but that's not really a bad thing. As I wrote last year, I thought he was pro ready then. Defensively, he's a rock with plus mobility, smarts, and the desire to run you through physically. Offensively, he's a solid player who can do a lot of things (rush the puck, jump up for a scoring opportunity, run the point on the power play, start the breakout), but I do think that this year has taught us that his offensive ceiling at the next level may not be outrageously high. If you're expecting him to be a 50-60 point NHL defender who wins multiple Norris trophies, I think you're setting the bar too high. So what can we expect out of his first pro season (and of him in general)? At this point, I think I see Nurse settling into a role similar to that of Brent Seabrook in Chicago. A hard nosed, physical defender who can put up some points, but it's not his main role on the club. I've seen some insinuating that Nurse should start at the AHL level to let him gain some confidence offensively. In all honesty, I don't think that should necessarily be the case. If he's in the AHL next year, it should be because you want his defensive game to gain confidence, for him to adjust to the size and speed of the pro game. This is because that will be his calling card and that's how he's going to best help this club. If his defensive game looks ready in camp, put him on the team and bring his ice time along slowly (kind of the way the Preds have with Seth Jones). Whether he's in the AHL or the NHL, I think he finds success this coming year. I'd be willing to bet that he's with the Oilers for at least half the season though.

3. Kyle Platzer - Owen Sound Attack
What a great year for Platzer. He was probably playing for a contract this year and he came through in the clutch. Platzer paced the Attack to a very solid season, showcasing great development in his offensive game (in nearly every area). He looked quicker, which helped him attack the offensive zone and create scoring chances off the rush. He was more aggressive, attacking the net and on the forecheck. He looked stronger, on and off the puck, which helped his shot and his ability to maintain possession. And, he looked more confident and poised. While he may not possess great size, Platzer is a smart offensive player who is now also a well rounded one. He'll start his AHL career and could find success in a variety of roles. The coaching staff could ask him to play an energy role on the 3rd/4th lines, or they could stick him on a scoring line as a complimentary scorer. I expect him to be a 20 goal scorer in his first season and for him to establish himself as a solid pro prospect.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are up next.

1. Lawson Crouse - Kingston Frontenacs
The 11th overall pick in 2015, Crouse was the one prospect who seemed to divide opinions the most. Some felt that he shouldn't have sniffed the lottery, while others felt that he was a legitimate Top 10 talent. Those who read this site know that I'm a Crouse fan and that means that I loved the Panthers choice. Crouse has always been a responsible two way player, a smart player away from the puck, and heavy hitter (in his two years in the league). But offensively he did improve this year. His ability and confidence to take the puck from the wall to the net definitely increased, as did his ability to drive wide and use his size to create scoring chances off the rush. He's very much a North/South player at this point, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. His shot and hands in close are good, but his numbers suffered this year because he didn't have a top notch playmaker to get him the puck. There's a reason why his numbers increased once Sam Bennett returned. As he continues to get stronger, quicker, and better with the puck, he's going to be better at creating his own scoring chances and should increase his offensive output. 2015/2016 will be a big year for Crouse as he looks to lead Kingston to a good year. Their year could go either way right now. He'll also be an important member of Canada's WJC team. So what to expect from Crouse? Spencer Watson is going to need to have a big year to get a contract so I think he'll be highly motivated, which will give Lawson a playmaker to play with. I see Crouse being in the 35+ goal range, and hopefully around 65 points.

2. Thomas Schemitsch - Owen Sound Attack
Massively improved over his rookie season in the OHL. Schemitsch was a key contributor in all situations for the Attack, playing nearly 30 minutes a night on occasion. He's a very smart player at both ends, using his instincts to jump up in the play to finish off scoring chances, or to be in position to make a good read defensively. For a player who hasn't been playing defence very long, he's shown great progress thus far. Moving forward, I think two things will be key to his development. First is improving his skating to make himself a more dangerous puck rusher and to help him evade the forecheck. Second is learning to use his size more consistently defensively. I have a lot of faith that he'll develop into a quality NHL prospect though. Next year Owen Sound will be going through a bit of a rebuild and they could struggle offensively, so if Schemitsch can post similar numbers to what he did this year (around 50 points), all the while improving on the above traits, I'd consider that a success.

3. Juho Lammikko - Kingston Frontenacs
Decent first OHL season for the power winger. There were definitely things that impressed me about his game. Plays a power, North/South game, using his size to drive the net. He's also effective at working the corners and has good puck protection ability. Lammikko also proved to be a good two-way player and was excellent at using his size to separate the opposition from the puck on the back check. I must say that I'm not entirely sure how high his offensive ceiling is though. His shot and overall scoring instincts did not prove to be incredibly impressive this year, and for as good as he was in the corners, and in working the cycle, the play did tend to die on his stick at times. Unfortunately, he won't be given the chance to improve his numbers in the OHL next year as he's returning to Finland to play for Assat.

4. Josh Brown - Oshawa Generals
Captain of a Championship winning team. You can't really beat that as an accomplishment. Brown led the Generals to the Memorial Cup, establishing career highs in point production and in +/- along the way. The overager has long been known for his physical play in his own end, but he's grown a lot as a player over his junior career. While he'll never put up points at the next level, he has worked hard to improve his breakout pass and is a lot less susceptible to forechecking turnovers than he used to be. And defensively, he's improved his overall mobility/agility, to make himself a much better defender off the rush, to go with his staunch defence of the crease and the corners. As he moves on to the pros next year (whether it's the AHL or ECHL), I do think that there will be a learning curve as there was in his OHL career. The quicker pace could expose his mobility and his puck skill at first until he's able to adjust. But there's no denying the terrific OHL career that Brown wrapped up has made him a potential NHL defender somewhere down the line.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings have been big fans of the OHL the last few years and that gives us a ton to talk about.

1. Mike Amadio - North Bay Battalion
His game is really blossoming under Coach Stan Butler. In his draft year, Amadio showed flashes of being a go to offensive player, but his inconsistencies and somewhat one dimensional game really held him back. But this past year, he's really worked hard to iron out those deficiencies. Amadio's puck skill is vastly underrated, as he's a terrific puck handler and it helps him be a factor in a variety of different ways. He can create off the rush, using his size down the middle to take the puck hard to the net, but he's also become an effective player along the wall, assimilating with Butler's grind it out style of play. Amadio also sees the ice really well and has great vision as a playmaker. As a puck protection center with size, he shows a lot of potential. Defensively, he's come a long way and is now a committed two-way player who kills penalties. Considering all the graduations in North Bay, Amadio should be a good bet to wear a letter next year. He'll also be needed to increase his offensive production even more with Nick Paul graduating. In Butler's system, the offensive numbers are often a little lower than some of the other teams in the OHL, but if Amadio can crack the 80 point barrier, that would be a great accomplishment. A prospect on the rise.

2. Matthew Mistele - Oshawa Generals
After a disastrous draft season, Mistele definitely got himself back on track this year. Splitting time between Plymouth and Oshawa, Mistele re-established himself as a power winger who can fill the net consistently. Biggest reason for that IMO was re-found confidence. In 2013/2014, he looked lost at times, gripping his stick too hard and putting too much pressure on himself. This year, he kept things simple, playing a strong North/South game. He knows his role on the ice is to go hard to the net and he's got great hands in close and a great wrister coming down the wing. He also re-established himself as a physical player, especially in the corners where he's very effective at winning one on one battles. I thought he was absolutely terrific for the Generals in the playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, helping them to win a Championship. Next year, where he plays remains to be seen. The Kings don't have to sign him until next year, but he's eligible to play in the pros this year thanks to a late birth date. With continued work on his skating and overall strength this offseason, he's probably ready for a top 9 role in the AHL. The Kings will likely give Mistele a chance to win an AHL role in training camp, and sign him if he proves to be ready (as they have done with several other prospects over the years). If he's in the AHL, I could easily see him hitting 15+ goals. If he's back in the OHL as an overager, he should be a strong candidate for the 40 goal mark, although it might be on yet another team as Oshawa goes through a bit of a rebuild.

3. Alex Lintuniemi - Ottawa 67's
Unlike Mistele, Lintuniemi already has an NHL contract, which suggests that they might see him taking on a pro role next year. This past year in the OHL, Lintuniemi was pretty solid. He was a work horse for the 67's, playing in all situations for the playoff team. His skating continues to improve and he's a very difficult player to beat off the rush because of his reach and his desire to plant you on your ass. But I would like to see him play with as much intensity in the corners and in front of the net, as he does in the middle of the ice and the neutral zone. Offensively, he can start the rush and did a better job evading the forecheck this year. Cutting down on the defensive zone turnovers must have been a goal of his and he succeeded. He's still not a natural offensive player though, and I think his calling card at the next level will be in his own end. As mentioned, Lintuniemi's got a contract next year, but the Kings do have options. They've got depth in the system, so he'd have to really compete hard to earn a spot in the AHL. If they elect to send him back to the OHL for his overage year, he'd be leading a 67's team which expects to compete for the Eastern Conference.

4. Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Leslie had an OK year, after being sent back to the OHL by the Kings to play as an overager. It was sort of a status quo year for him, perhaps even a slight step backwards. The Storm were not as good of a team this year and I think that will always prevent a player from looking consistently strong as a prospect. And Leslie was also troubled by a shoulder injury this year that eventually required season ending surgery, which obviously negatively impacted his production. I didn't see him as being as aggressive of an offensive player this year, specifically in jumping in on the rush (or leading it). Still did a good job running the point on the power play, but his offensive game just wasn't as sharp (possibly because of the shoulder, possibly because the Kings asked him to focus more on the defensive side of things). Defensively, he's a solid player who plays bigger than his size. Honestly, it wasn't a bad year for Leslie, it's just that I don't think there was any progression over the year prior. Next year he'll turn pro and with the depth in the AHL, he could find himself in the ECHL to start.

5. Jacob Middleton - Ottawa 67's
I think his game made great strides this past year. Offensively, he's still a work in progress (and is behind in his development compared to where I figured he would be at this point in his OHL career). But defensively, he really established himself as a tough guy to play against. His lateral mobility and overall skating ability has improved, making him a better defender off the rush, and quicker to dump ins and corner battles. He's a very physical player and already exceptionally strong, making him difficult to compete against along the wall and in front of the net. Offensively, he plays a simple game, often electing to let Lintuniemi (his partner) start the rush. So where does his game go from here? Obviously, the Kings would probably like to see him maintain his defensive play, but also improve his offensive production. Whether it's improving his breakout pass, or taking more chances up ice, Middleton should be able to contribute more if he can make even bigger strides in his skating. I know that I've always felt that there is hidden potential offensively there and we'll see if that comes to fruition. Next year, as the 67's gear up for a run at the Eastern Conference title, I'd like to see Middleton hit the 35 point mark, while continuing to establish himself as one of the league's elite defenders below the hash marks.

6. Kurtis MacDermid - Erie Otters
Definitely a fantastic year for MacDermid's development as he was able to take on a larger role for the competitive Otters. His offensive production doubled that of his previous career best, which is not uncommon for overage players. Still great to see though. Offensively, MacDermid was way more confident handling the puck, and really improved his ability to start the breakout. His first pass has greatly improved and he showed confidence in skating the puck out at times too. MacDermid even saw power play time this year and certainly did not look uncomfortable. He's got a big shot from the point and as long as his decision making continues to improve, he could even put up a few points at the next level. Defensively, he was a rock. His game has grown a lot in his own end, chasing the play less, no longer taking himself out of position to make the big hit. He's still an exceptionally physical player though, and one of the toughest to match up against in the OHL. His mobility will still need work for the next level, but his size, engagement, and positioning covered up for it at this level. Next year, MacDermid will battle with guys like Leslie for a spot on the AHL blue line. It will be interesting to see if one can crack the lineup, or whether both end up in the ECHL.

7. Jake Marchment - Erie Otters
Certainly an up and down year for Marchment. First the suspension and the stripping of the captaincy in Belleville. Then the trade to Erie where he would eventually grow to be one of their best players in the OHL playoffs. His offensive production this year certainly wasn't terrific. In Belleville he struggled to be a consistent contributor, and then after the trade to Erie, he seemed to struggle with trying to make a consistent impact with a reduced role. But he slowly gained more ice time and responsibility in Erie, and was a huge part of their penalty kill. Marchment remains a big guy; a big powerful center who thrives in traffic and loves to slow the game down in the offensive end. He's also quite defensively responsible and should continue to grow into the type of player who is difficult to match up against (your shut down center). The LA Kings have traditionally shown a desire to send players like Marchment back to Junior for their overage year, so I would definitely expect him back in Erie next year. This would be great for his development IMO. He needs another year to really get his confidence going in his offensive game. To learn how to consistently use his size off the rush, to continue to make improvements to his first few steps, and to work on finishing off plays in close. In Erie, he should assume a top 6 role with power play time and I'd expect him to be a very productive player, in the 30/30 range.

8. Matt Schmalz - Sudbury Wolves
A great draft selection by the Kings this year, as Schmalz proved to be one of the most improved 96's in the OHL. Schmalz was a previous high draft pick to the OHL who had yet to live up to that, failing to grow into his 6'6 frame. But this past year was a huge one for his development, and really one of the few bright spots during an otherwise miserable season for the Wolves. At this point, Schmalz is still quite raw. His game is pretty simple in a North/South way. The majority of his goals and scoring chances are created by him driving wide, trying to use his size and top gear to bully his way to the net. And he's got a pretty decent wrist shot that's got some life on it. His first few steps need work, but once he gets going, he's actually a good skater for a big man. He's also not afraid to use his size physically, throwing his weight around without the puck. But the rest of his game needs improvement. His vision and playmaking ability will need to improve off the rush, as he's more of a 'head down' kind of guy at this moment. I'd like to see him create more off the wall and from the cycle too. And defensively, the effort could be greater. But at 6'6, the potential is quite high if his game continues to grow like it did this year. Sudbury will improve next year and could compete for a playoff spot. Schmalz could be in for another jump in production, especially with a few more talented playmakers injected into the lineup. I think he could easily crack the 30 goal plateau, but I'd actually be more impressed if he could really get those assist totals higher (in the 25+ range).

9. Spencer Watson - Kingston Frontenacs
It was a tough year for Watson IMO, and he still has yet to take that next step forward that he's capable of. Watson missed a big chunk of time with a broken ankle this year, but when he did play, there wasn't much growth from his draft year. The one thing that I will say is that his 200 foot game has improved and his willingness to be a two-way player seems evident. But he's still undersized, and lacks that explosive skating element to his game that all smaller players need to find success at the next level. Watson is still isn't aggressive enough as an offensive player too, and needs to get stronger to be more effective in traffic. His instincts are terrific, and his hands have never been questioned, but the production just doesn't match that. With his skill level, he should be taking over games, but that's just not the case. Next year is a huge one for him. I'd like to see him really play with a chip on his shoulder. To prove to people that he should not have been a 7th round pick. To prove to the Kings that he deserves a contract. Kingston's season next year could go a bunch of different ways, depending on the development of some of their players (which has been underwhelming thus far). If they want to be in the top 4 of the Conference, they're going to need Watson in the 90-ish point range and for him to really take that next step forward as one of the league's premier offensive talents.

*Of Note, Kings 2nd round Erik Cernak was drafted by the Erie Otters in the Import Draft and it seems pretty likely that he'll be there next year. He should see a ton of playing time and I'm excited to see what he's capable of.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Minnesota Wild

The Wild have a couple of late round picks playing in the OHL right now.

1. Gustav Bouramman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Fantastic first season in North America for Bouramman, who managed to be a consistent contributor for the competitive Hounds. Once the team acquired Anthony DeAngelo and Connor Boland, his ice time was slashed pretty significantly but his play never dropped. Bouramman's standout strength is his ability to start the rush. He's got great vision up ice, and makes very good decisions with the puck in his own end. His smooth stride and excellent mobility makes him a hard player to forecheck effectively, and the majority of his assists this year came from making good first passes. Defensively, the effort level is unquestionably there, but he needs to get stronger to be an effective defensive player. Strength will also help his point shot gain velocity, which would make him more of a weapon on the power play. Overall, he's just a very smart player who I think gets better. Next year, the Hounds hope to continue to be competitive on the back of young, improving players like Bouramman. He'll have a chance to play on their first pairing next year and will definitely be running their top power play unit. I'd expect him to at least match his offensive output from this past season, perhaps even cracking the 50 point barrier (goals increase).

2. Pavel Jenys - Sudbury Wolves
The Sudbury Wolves were awful this year. No bones about it. But Jenys did lead the Sudbury in scoring, which has to be considered an accomplishment following his first season in North America. His 45 points paced the Wolves and Jenys looked quite comfortable on the ice. He's a real honest player. Not necessarily the most skilled, but I liked how he worked off the rush, and off the wall, and showed a penchant for creating scoring chances with some pretty decent first few steps. He's certainly not shy about throwing his weight around either and can be active on the forecheck. That said, he was prone to being invisible too. He needs to play with a higher intensity level every shift. Coming into the season, the scouting reports I got praised him as a shoot first kind of guy, but that wasn't necessarily something I saw in Sudbury. Would love to see him shoot more. Sudbury's rebuild will continue next year, although they will most definitely be better than they were in 2014/2015. Jenys will be at the heart of that as a returning player. With a talented playmaker like Sokolov entering the fold, as well David Levin, Jenys should have some help. I'd love to see him around 25 goals and 35 assists next year.

Monday, July 27, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens have a lot to be excited about in their minimal OHL player pool.

1. Michael McCarron - Oshawa Generals
What a difference a year makes. Honestly, McCarron couldn't have transformed himself any more than he did in 2014/2015. Two years ago, I, like many, were disappointed with the big American forward's play. There honestly weren't many redeeming qualities to his game (turnover prone, soft for his size, undisciplined, etc). This year, he was a difference maker on a Memorial Cup Championship team. The offensive numbers dipped upon the trade to Oshawa, but that doesn't mean that his play dropped off. If anything, his play on both London and Oshawa was great for him. In London he was able to establish himself as an offensive force, a guy who can drive the net, or finish off plays in close. With his size and hands in front, he was nearly impossible for OHL defenders to tie up. His shot also proved to be a massive weapon and it's strength profiles him more as a goal scorer at the next level than people give him credit for. In Oshawa, he was asked to play a shutdown role where he had to kill penalties, take important face-offs, and put pressure on the top lines of the opposition. His tale of two seasons showcases how well rounded of a player he has become. As he moves on to the professional level next year, I honestly wouldn't be shocked to see McCarron in the NHL at some point. If his development goes according to plan, he's the type of guy who could make a difference in the NHL playoffs come May 2016. I won't make any predictions on his offensive output, because it's impossible to pin point what type of role he'll be playing. But I do expect him to find success and establish himself as a top flight prospect.

2. Jeremiah Addison - Ottawa 67's
Addison had a very quietly effective season, finishing strong with a terrific playoff performance. He plays a lot bigger than his size (~6'0) and is a true power forward. He excels when driving the net, with and without the puck, and is slowly learning how to read defences to get himself good scoring chances. As a complimentary offensive player, he was very valuable to Ottawa. He can also kill penalties and is a strong presence at both ends of the ice. As a complete player, he was a great add by Montreal in the late rounds of 2015. Next year, Ottawa should be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and Addison will continue to play a scoring line role (with Konecny or Salituro). He should also see power play time. I could see him having a very good season and a 30/30 year is a great possibility.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Nashville Predators

Like the Capitals earlier, the Preds do not currently have any OHL prospects in their system. In fact, the Predators haven't drafted a player out of the OHL since 2011 (Josh Shalla), although they did have Mikko Vainonen play in Kingston in 2014.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - New Jersey Devils

The Devils have quietly built a very solid group of OHL prospects, which was added to by their near OHL sweep at the draft this year (4 out of 5 picks).

1. Pavel Zacha - Sarnia Sting
Even if he was the 6th overall pick, to say that Zacha's first season in the OHL went as planned would be a blatant lie. Injuries and suspensions derailed his season, (along with the WJC's), holding him to just 37 games played. In those 37 games, he was solid. He was a physical beast at times, showcasing an ability to dominate the corners and the middle of the ice with his size and skill package. He really knows how to create his own scoring chances and his puck protection ability at full speed is excellent. He's also a solid two-way player and did a great job against Connor McDavid in round one of the playoffs. That said, there are areas that need refinement. I'm still not sure whether he's a center or a wing (he looked great on the wing at the U18's), and that's because I'm not sure about his vision or playmaking skill for those around him. At times when I saw him, he had trouble identifying open teammates, opting instead for a net drive that accomplished little. So where does that leave us for next year? Physically, Zacha is probably ready for the challenges of the NHL. He's a big kid and with his skill set, he'd probably find success right away. However, I think it would be a mistake. If I was the Devils, I'd want to see him play a full, healthy season before graduating him. The Sting are set to be a serious contender in the OHL next year and sending him back to junior would give him a chance to be an integral part of a potential Championship team.

2. Mackenzie Blackwood - Barrie Colts
Blackwood has already established himself as a top 5 starter in the OHL, thanks to two solid seasons in the league where he's cemented himself as Barrie's starter. While he's had some injuries and had a few shaky performances here and there, he's largely been pretty consistent for a Barrie team that has finished 2nd and 4th the last two years. His size and freakish athleticism give him sky high potential as an NHL net minder, barring he can continue to work on the fundamentals (rebound control, positioning, reads, etc). Next year, Barrie could be one of the best teams in the OHL and the next step for Blackwood would be leading them to a Championship after being bounced in the 2nd round the last two years. I'd also love to see him as one of Canada's backstops at the World Junior Championships.

3. Ryan Kujawinski - North Bay Battalion
The trade to North Bay really saved Kujawinski's season and was absolutely fantastic for his development. He and Coach Stan Butler seemed to be on the same page right from day one and he really brought out the best in Ryan, something other coaches have had a difficult time doing. In North Bay, Kujawinski established himself as a very difficult player to go up against. He used his size to disrupt away from the puck at both ends of the ice, and embraced a consistently physical approach for the first time in his OHL career. He also showcased a great north/south offensive game, finishing off plays off the rush and working hard in the corners/behind the net to wear down the opposing defence. When he's using his size to drive the net, Kujawinski shows he could score some goals at the next level. In the AHL next year, I'm hoping he continues to find the motivation to play as hard as he did under Butler. His skill set makes him an ideal candidate for an NHL 3rd line down the road and I'm hopeful he can have a successful first pro season. Would love to see him hit the 20 goal mark, which is a great goal IMO.

4. Joseph Blandisi - Barrie Colts
After the Avalanche elected not to sign Blandisi, he returned to the OHL as a man possessed. He ended up finishing 4th in league scoring and was tops in goal scoring with 52. The coveted overager then signed with New Jersey. This was really the first year that Blandisi was given a ton of offensive responsibility (top line ice time and first power play unit) and he took that and ran with it. Previously Blandisi had been more of a strong supporting character whose two way play and tenacity away from the puck made him a terrific complimentary scorer. But as he proved this year, he's more than that. Always a good skater, Blandisi took that to another level this past offseason, allowing him to be one of the quickest players in the OHL this year. He was also noticeably stronger and his release and the velocity of his shot greatly improved. Most of all, his confidence was sky high and he was able to take over a lot of games with his play in all three zones. Sometimes players bloom late, and when an NHL team chooses not to sign you, it can light a fire under you (Jake Muzzin comes to mind recently). Blandisi's speed and play without the puck should make him a good pro right off the bat. He's likely going to be ready to contribute pretty quickly in the AHL this year and should have a good year.

5. Blake Speers - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Speers was fantastic in the first half of the OHL season, finding himself with a ton of offensive responsibility in his second year. But as the season went on, a couple of things happened. One, Speers seemed to tire a bit and he didn't bring the same type of energy late in the season as he did early on. Secondly, as the Hounds brought in higher profile veterans (Ritchie, Bailey), he found himself a little further down the depth chart. His speed, his release and overall goal scoring instincts, and his two-way smarts make him a very solid OHL player already. Moving forward, he needs to get stronger, become a little more aggressive in the middle of the ice, and find a way to consistently use his speed to generate scoring chances. Next year In Sault Ste. Marie, Speers will be a go to offensive player and will get the opportunity to blossom. My guess is that he puts in the work this offseason to make himself better and returns to the OHL next year a more consistent player. A 40/40 season and the 90 point marker are realistic expectations IMO.

6. Colton White - Sault Ste. Marie Gryehounds
Buried on the depth chart this year, White is a terrific young defenseman. His mobility is fantastic and I think we're scratching the surface on the types of things he's capable of offensively. He needs to gain confidence, but he's a very capable puck rusher moving forward, and his instincts running the point make him a candidate to run the power play if he can improve his point shot and distribution ability. As a defensive player, he's solid positionally and will likely continue to learn how to use his mobility to be an asset in his own end. Next year, White could be on the top pairing of the Hounds (moving up with partner Bouramman) and see a ton of ice time (thanks to a lot of graduations). He should see power play time and I'd expect his offensive numbers to really grow (in the 35+ points). The Hounds should still be a pretty decent team next year, despite losing a ton of talent, and that's because of the potential their young players hold...like White.

7. Connor Chatham - Plymouth Whalers/Flint Firebirds
It was a tough year for Chatham, as he battled a wrist injury that ultimately required season ending surgery. The Whalers (now Firebirds) were a very inconsistent offensive team, as they lacked a dynamic play creator outside of Sonny Milano. Chatham remains the same type of player that he was when he was drafted. A hard nosed, physical winger, who plays a strong North/South game and who has good hands. He has the potential to be more of a dynamic player, who can create scoring chances in a variety of ways (off the rush, off the wall, near the crease), but he just hasn't taken that next step yet. He needs to improve his shot and find a way to involve himself in all aspects of the game. Without a contract currently, it seems likely that Chatham will return to the OHL for his overage year. That would be a smart choice IMO. He should be able to physically dominate shifts and really gain some confidence offensively, before he settles into more of a checking line role at the next level. If he's in the OHL, he should be capable of a 30 goal season.

*Of Note, the Devils' 2nd rounder in 2014, Josh Jacobs, will be joining the Sarnia Sting in 2015/2016. I have very high expectations for him. The Sting should be one of the stronger teams in their Conference and he'll get the chance to play a lot (in all situations). Could even be a partner for Jakob Chychrun.