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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - New York Islanders

The Islanders are our next stop.

1. Michael Dal Colle - Oshawa Generals
Hard to argue with the kind of year Dal Colle had. Any time one of your top prospects leads his team to a Memorial Cup championship, you should be happy. Dal Colle certainly had a ton of help, as the Generals were one of the strongest OHL teams in recent memory (depth and size wise). However, the question you have to ask yourself is, did Dal Colle really improve a ton as a prospect and a player? The honest answer is probably not. Did he have to? Probably not. He's an exceptionally talented offensive player whose game is multifaceted. Can create offense or finish off plays off the rush, off the wall, near the crease, on the powerplay, 5 on 5, etc. Is he the world's most dynamic skater? No. Has he developed into a power forward the way many anticipated he would? No. But his shot, offensive intelligence, and puck skill profiles him as a great piece to an NHL top 6 down the line. The one thing that I will say improved this year was his defensive play. Greater effort and awareness on the backcheck, which will make him a more attractive NHL option (to his coaches). Is he NHL ready? Yeah I think so. After winning a championship, I think he's plateaued as an OHL player and needs a new challenge. Unfortunately he can't play in the AHL. Which means that it's the NHL or the OHL. The Islanders have some talented players, but that doesn't mean he can't bump someone. If he does return to the OHL, it'll be interesting to see what happens. The Generals will be rebuilding and I could see them dealing Dal Colle to recoup some of the lost assets traded for their Cup run. If he's in the OHL, he's obviously a favourite to lead the league in scoring. Just not sure what else there is for him to learn.

2. Joshua Ho-Sang - Niagara IceDogs
Ho-Sang had a solid year with Niagara, following the early trade from Windsor. He's still quite the character and the type of person who's not afraid to speak his mind. But that doesn't mean that he hasn't matured. Let's talk about his play on the ice though. In terms of being able to make plays, there are few who can match his ability at the OHL level. His ability to work in traffic and create off the rush is often electrifying. Does he over handle the puck at times? Sure. Is he prone to some offensive zone turnovers? Yeah. But he's cut those down every year he's been in the league, from multiple per game, to about one per game. When you look at how much offense he creates, you'll learn to live with his gambles. There are still next steps though. He still needs to get stronger, and I'd like to see him upgrade his shot and ability to use it off the rush. By developing as more of a goal scorer, he'll be able to keep defences more honest and be a little less predictable. And by adding strength, he should be better at fighting off checks near the crease and in the corners, where he needs to be better. Niagara is set to be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference this year, and if that's the case, they'll need Ho-Sang to be their offensive leader. They need a 90-95 point season from him and I think they'll get it. This is a motivated kid.

3. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Oshawa Generals
Undersized? Sure. But don't count him out. Vande Sompel competes and has already improved so much over the course of his two year OHL career. His intelligence at both ends profiles him as more than just an undersized powerplay specialist. By far Vande Sompel's best skill is his ability to start the breakout. He transitions up ice with ease and his explosive first few strides help him to evade forecheckers pretty easily. I'd actually like to see him be a little more aggressive next year with his rushes, trusting his speed to bail him out if needed. As a defensive player, it's all about adding strength, to give him a stronger base. That way he can be more successful in the corners and protecting his crease. But his defensive positioning and awareness has already grown a ton. Next year Oshawa will likely be rebuilding, but that doesn't mean that they can't still be somewhat competitive. Vande Sompel will be their leader on defence and they will need him to play a ton (30 minutes a night likely) and in all situations. It'll be a great year for his development if he's up for the challenge. I expect him to finish near the top of the defenseman scoring list.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - New York Rangers

To the Big Apple we go!

1. Brandon Halverson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I felt like this was a terrific year for Halverson's development. Part of that is because he struggled at times. His inconsistency caused him to lose some playing time to rookie Joseph Raaymakers, and his struggles in the playoffs against Erie (was a whole team effort) were a topic of discussion. Yet, I think these things were good for him. It's shown him what it takes to be an effective starting netminder in this league and it's bound to make him more hungry for success next year. A year when he'll have to be a bit better as the Hounds defence is taking a bit of a hit. His athleticism and size remain major pluses, but he's still learning the mental side of the game and how to read plays and position himself. It will be interesting to see if he's actually a Greyhound all of next year. The Hounds have another top prospect in Joseph Raaymakers who will be pushing for playing time (he's one of the top 98's in the province). There are some that believe the Hounds will trade Halverson if Raaymakers proves he's worthy of starting (as the goaltending market will be hot). No matter where he's playing, I expect Halverson to iron out some things and establish himself as one of the OHL's best.

2. Ryan Mantha - Niagara IceDogs
He was very bad at the beginning of the year. Then he suffered a shoulder injury and upon returning, he got better and better each month. In the final three months of the season, he had 21 points in 33 games. But he was actually very solid defensively too. He slowly gained the trust of the coaching staff and found himself paired with Blake Siebenaler in Niagara's top 4 by the end of the season. He's a big kid, and his mobility is a tad awkward, but his positioning isn't bad and he does a good job using his reach defending the rush. He's not afraid of mixing things up in front of the net too. Next year Niagara should have one of the better teams in the East, and one of the stronger defences in the OHL. Mantha could be in for a big year in 2015/2016, as long as he continues to improve. He'll play in all situations for the Dogs and a 40 point season is a logical expectation.

3. Troy Donnay - Erie Otters
Donnay improved a lot this year. He was a defensive workhorse for the Otters, eating a ton of minutes in key defensive situations and on the penalty kill. His penalty minutes declined, but not because he was less physical. Because his mobility improved (especially agility, turns), he took less hooking, tripping, etc calls because he was able to stay with forwards more effectively. But his defensive positioning also improved, as he's learned to use his reach and size to give himself more time and space. His first pass and overall puck handling ability also improved. He cut down on the defensive zone turnovers and improved his confidence in making first passes, or even skating the puck up to the blue line to make an outlet. But keep in mind that he was playing as an overager with a massive physical advantage. Graduating to the pros will be a big challenge for him. He's finally figured out how to neutralize the speed factor at the OHL level and now will be moving to an even faster pace. I could see him struggling a bit next year (could even be in the ECHL), and he remains a project that will require time and patience. But as long as he slowly improves and doesn't lose confidence, he could still be a defensive 3rd pairing guy down the line.

*Of note, two of the Rangers 2015 selections were chosen in this year's Import Draft. Robin Kovacs by North Bay, and Daniel Bernhardt by London. If either, or both come to the OHL, they'll get top 6 ice time and should be good candidates to have strong seasons.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Ottawa Senators

Time for the Canadian Capital.

1. Nick Paul - North Bay Battalion
What a fantastic season for Paul, as he emerged as one of the top prospect's playing in the OHL. His game has grown so much since he was drafted, credit has to go to both Paul and coach Stan Butler. Offensively, he controls the pace of play with his great puck possession ability. He controls the wall, but is also great off the rush. He just flat out knows how to use his size to maintain possession. Paul also has great scoring instincts and hands in close, which profiles him as a goal scorer at the next level too. As a defensive player, he excels against the opposition's best. Despite being a physical player and someone who excels in all three zones, he had under 50 penalty minutes this year. This points to his intelligence away from the puck. Moving forward, the one criticism that I do have is that he'll need to simplify his approach with the puck at the AHL/NHL level. There were times this year that he was too patient and tried to hold on to the puck too long, looking for the perfect play. He won't have that time and space at the next level. But I do expect him to have a ton of success next year. With how highly Ottawa management thinks of him, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Paul up with the big club for over half the season. Getting his feet wet at the AHL level wouldn't be a bad thing to start though. Let him build some confidence offensively.

2. Tobias Lindberg - Oshawa Generals
What a great find for the Senators, and for the Generals this year. Lindberg filled a critical scoring line role for Oshawa during their championship season. Lindberg is at his best off the rush, using his size and speed to drive the net. He's also got a terrific release and he's great at using opposing defenders as screens as he flies down the wing. While he's not an overtly physical player, and he's not yet a terrific player along the wall, he does involve himself in these aspects and he excels at being the guy who finds himself in the right spot for scoring chances. As a two way player, Lindberg is solid and he uses his size to effectively separate players from the puck on the back check. Like Paul, Lindberg will be turning pro this year and should take on a top 6 role at the AHL level. I expect him to have a good year, at the very least scoring 20 goals.

3. Ben Harpur - Barrie Colts
I thought Harpur had an OK year, split between Guelph and Barrie. After the trade to the Colts, his offensive responsibilities declined and thus his offensive output also decreased. In a way, I think this was a good thing because it allowed him to focus on his defensive responsibilities. I think being counted on to be a point producer in Guelph hindered his defensive game a bit. In Barrie, his role was to clear the front of the net and play big minutes in key defensive situations. I thought he was excellent in the playoffs, which was the sole reason the Colts brought him in. Moving forward to the pro level next year, I do think that Harpur might struggle initially. His footwork still needs some work and he's still learning how to use his size more effectively (as a positional defender or a physically imposing one). He'll need to learn to make quicker decisions with the puck in his own end too. He should be brought along slowly, in a 3rd pairing role, which is definitely possible considering Ottawa's depth at the position.