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.