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?

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