Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings

Past the halfway point of the season now, NHL Central Scouting has updated their rankings for 2016.

Here's a look at how the OHL players fared. A total of 67 were ranked (highest I've seen in years). And of course, if you wanted to compare, here's my midseason top 50.

1. Matthew Tkachuk (1)
2. Jakob Chychrun (2)
3. Alex Nylander (3)
4. Olli Juolevi (5)
5. Michael McLeod (6)
6. Mikhail Sergachev (10)
7. Max Jones (11)
8. Logan Brown (14)
9. Nathan Bastian (19)
10. Alex Debrincat (20)
11. Logan Stanley (23)
12. Tim Gettinger (28)
13. Boris Katchouk (32)
14. Jack Kopacka (33)
15. Taylor Raddysh (34)
16. Will Bitten (42)
17. Sean Day (43)
18. Jordan Kyrou (45)
19. Markus Niemelainen (46)
20. Ben Gleason (53)
21. Keaton Middleton (55)
22. Adam Mascherin (57)
23. Victor Mete (58)
24. Travis Barron (60)
25. Givani Smith (63)
26. Cole Candella (65)
27. Stepan Falkovsky (79)
28. Noah Carroll (80)
29. Connor Bunnaman (81)
30. Cliff Pu (83)
31. Christopher Paquette (87)
32. Riley Stillman (88)
33. Jordan Sambrook (90)
34. Dmitri Sokolov (91)
35. Brandon Crawley (96)
36. Nicolas Mattinen (103)
37. Konstantin Chernyuk (104)
38. Dante Salituro (106)
39. Kyle Maksimovich (111)
40. Cam Dineen (117)
41. Alan Lyszczarczyk (119)
42. Domenic Commisso (123)
43. Anthony Salinitri (126)
44. Jonathan Ang (137)
45. Tye Felhaber (139)
46. Drake Rymsha (143)
47. Nicholas Caamano (148)
48. Austin Osmanski (153)
49. Ben Hawerchuk (159)
50. Brandon Saigeon (160)
51. Hayden Verbeek (164)
52. Luke Kirwan (166)
53. Justin Murray (171)
54. Ondrej Kachyna (173)
55. Luke Kutkevicus (180)
56. Christian Mieritz (182)
57. Max Kislinger (194)
58. Zach Poirier (199)
59. James McEwan (202)
60. Justin Brazeau (207)

1. Joseph Raaymakers (4)
2. Dylan Wells (5)
3. Tyler Parsons (6)
4. Evan Cormier (7)
5. Troy Timpano (14)
6. David Ovsjannikov (23)
7. Stephen Dhillon (25)

For the full list, head over to NHL.com to check out (HERE).

My thoughts:

1. Biggest discrepancies between my list and NHL CSS.
Noah Carroll (+22)
Jack Kopacka (+20)
Riley Stillman (+19)
Ben Gleason (+16)
Konstantin Chernyuk (+14)
Nicolas Mattinen (+13)
Tim Gettinger (+12)
Chris Paquette (+11)
Jordan Sambrook (+11)
Boris Katchouk (+10)
Cam Dineen (-21)
Dmitri Sokolov (-19)
Tye Felhaber (-16)
Michael Pezzetta (-14) - only player in my Top 50 not on the CSS list
Jonathan Ang (-13)
Zach Poirier (-13)
Nicholas Caamano (-12)
Adam Mascherin (-10)

2. The trend lately has been to drop Jakob Chychrun in the rankings, and I'm glad to see that NHL Central Scouting didn't do that (I was actually worried he'd be lower). His season this year hasn't been as good as last, but he's looked way better since Sarnia has improved the offense around him and I think he'll have a really good second half of the season. Still the best defender from the OHL available.

3. I am absolutely befuddled by the Cam Dineen ranking. We've got an OHL rookie who leads the entire league in defensive scoring and you're telling me that there are 17 better defensive prospects from the OHL ALONE? It's more than stats too. Watch North Bay play and he drives their offense. He's also already improved defensively and is starting to see PK time under Stan Butler. The size isn't terrific, but what makes similarly average sized defenders like Ben Gleason, Victor Mete, and Riley Stillman better (and don't get me wrong as I like all three of those players too)? We've been starting to see Dineen up near the early second in rankings of late (Craig Button's comes to mind), so this is a shock. Can't agree at all.

4. I'd love to hear the reasoning behind some players being quite high despite relatively poor showings in the first half (Carroll, Kopacka, Gettinger, Paquette). I believe in the potential of these players, but the on ice performance doesn't justify the ranking at this given time. Several other players who were highly touted coming into the season have been punished for their slow starts (Felhaber, Saigeon, Sokolov). What makes them different? Again, I think that represents inconsistency.

5. Among the goaltenders, Stephen Dhillon's is also very shocking to me. Netminder with great size who has performed very well in a small sample size this year. Has some areas to improve upon, but I'd say he's a heck of a lot closer to the likes of Wells and Cormier, than he is to David Ovsjannikov (no offense meant to him).

6. Overall, it's good to see the OHL dominate these rankings. 7 of the first 11. 19 of the first 46. Those are pretty good percentages. More evidence that this is a great year for the Ontario Hockey League when it comes to the draft.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 OHL Trade Deadline Report Cards

OHL players can now sleep easy as the 2016 OHL trade deadline has come and gone. Many players have said goodbyes. But with a new team often comes new and rewarding challenges. Many of these players will get the chance to play deeper into the playoffs and perhaps win an OHL championship. While others will receive increased responsibility and ice time in hopes of catching the eye of NHL scouts.

Many of the teams in the league were active in the past month. Several teams (Sarnia, Barrie, Niagara, Kingston, etc) loaded up for deep playoff runs. Other teams (Oshawa, Hamilton, Saginaw, etc) made moves to rebuild so that they can be good again in the years to come.

For this article, I'm cutting off trades at the beginning of December. So any trades made before December won't be factored into a teams grade. No sense assessing a team's ability to trade over the course of the season (even the last month or so is a bit of a stretch).

Let's do some grading!

Eastern Conference

Barrie Colts
In: Keigan Goetz, Dylan Sadowy, Greg DiTomaso, Cameron Lizotte, David Ovsjannikov, Anthony Stefano, Draft Picks (2, 3, 4)
Out: Brendan Lemieux, Brandon Prophet, Tyler Rollo, Rocky Kaura, Draft Picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Analysis: Barrie was definitely one of the most active teams in the OHL over the last month. Some pretty significant roster turnover for them. It started off with the Lemieux trade which made sense for the Colts (considering it was something both sides allegedly wanted). Value wise it probably wasn't a terrific return, but Stefano is going to be a valuable piece for Barrie this year, and next (as an OA). Then they essentially swapped Prophet for Lizotte. I thought Prophet had done a great job since being acquired by Barrie last year, but Lizotte represents a nice upgrade in the physical and shot blocking departments. And he'll be around for a couple more years too (year younger than Prophet). Even though they gave up a ton for Dylan Sadowy and Greg DiTomaso, I really like those acquisitions. Sadowy gives their second line a big upgrade (or first line if they decide to bump Justin Scott). And DiTomaso gives Barrie another good puck mover to take some pressure off of Rasmus Andersson. Lastly the Keigan Goetz move is a solid underrated pick up. His stats aren't great this year, but he's a super hard worker who will elevate the quality of their 3rd or 4th line. Overall, Barrie was super aggressive in going for the jugular in the Eastern Conference and you have to commend that. They lose a few points for value given up, but sometimes you have to give to get.
Grade: B+

Hamilton Bulldogs
In: Luke Kutkevicius, Kaden Fulcher, Evan Krassey, Kyle Locke, Jack Hidi, Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 5, 7)
Out: Stephen Harper, Mason Marchment, Charlie Graham, Maurizio Collella, Draft picks (3, 7, 10)
Analysis: The overage market can be a tricky one to assess. On one hand, the Bulldogs traded (arguably) their three best players and didn't get near the return that some other team's received for their stars (look at the haul Saginaw just got for Sadowy and DiTomaso). But, you've got to remember that all three players were overagers. The going rate just isn't as high. All things considered, the Bulldogs did decent. Picking up three 98's who have a chance to be a part of this team for a while was important. Kutkevicius has impressed me this year with his effort and hustle in the offensive zone and with his dedication to play away from the puck, he's going to quickly become a favourite of George Burnett. And Fulcher can hopefully push Connor Hicks for the starter's job (even if his first start didn't go according to plan). There has been some criticism that Hamilton should have done more (like trading Cramarossa or Trent Fox), but I disagree. This is a team trying to sell themselves to a new market (or an old one if you prefer). They have a chance to be a competitive team next year and they need to see how that works out. If it doesn't, they'll still have a chance to blow it up next year too.
Grade: B

Kingston Frontenacs
In: Michael Dal Colle, Liam Murray
Out: Robbie Burt, Brett Primeau, Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 3, 3)
Analysis: Hard to argue with the deadline activity of the team who managed to acquire the top player. Picking up Dal Colle was a coup for Kingston, a team badly in need of a pure scorer to take some of the pressure off of Spencer Watson and Lawson Crouse. The results thus far have been great too (3-1 record and Dal Colle has 10 points in 4 games). Sure the price was high, but Kingston is all in this year (especially when you factor in the Desrocher deal too). Liam Murray was also a good depth add who gives the team another solid stay at home guy who can play on the 2nd or 3rd pairing and help out the PK. My only gripe was that I felt that the Frontenacs needed to go out and get a top flight center to help with depth and perhaps push Warren Foegele and Juho Lammikko back to the wing or down in the lineup (again to give the team another solid scoring line). But the likes of Mike Amadio, Dante Salituro, and Anthony Cirelli didn't end up moving so it's not like the Fronts missed out on anyone either. Just don't know if they're the top team in the East following the deadline. Definitely the best team in their division though.
Grade: B

Mississauga Steelheads
In: Mason Marchment, Joseph Murdaca, Draft picks (3, 9)
Out: Luke Kutkevicius, Cameron Zanussi, Draft picks (4, 7)
Analysis: Not a bad deadline for the Steelheads, but not a great one either IMO. Mason Marchment is an underrated player who will give Mississauga more scoring depth on the wing and should really help to take the pressure off of Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod, who have been (at times) asked to do too much for rookies. On the other hand, the Steelheads were already lacking depth down the middle and they dealt Kutkevicius away as part of the deal to bring Marchment in. Cant help but wonder if they would have been better off targeting a center for that open overage spot. And the Sean Day saga continues to become a distraction, as he remains a Steelhead despite heading home for over a week. Perhaps his value isn't great right now, but I still see it as a lost opportunity to move in a bit of a different direction. Are the Steelheads really a better team now (and in the future) after this deadline? Not sure. In the meantime, two division rivals greatly improved themselves. 
Grade: C+

Niagara IceDogs
In: Alex Nedeljkovic, Stephen Harper, Tyler Boston, Josh Wesley, Draft picks (7, 15)
Out: Brent Moran, Evan Krassey, Ryan Sarris, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5)
Analysis: Kudos to Marty Williamson on this one. The IceDogs managed to address every weakness on their roster. The team's goaltending had been very inconsistent, so they went out and got one of the league's top goaltenders (who has been nothing short of sensational since the trade). The team's scoring depth was lacking, especially down the middle. So in comes Stephen Harper and Tyler Boston. And Josh Wesley helps to solidify the team's third pairing, which had previously suffered through some struggles this year. And they did it all without having to give up talented '98's Chris Paquette, and Stephen Dhillon, or either of their first rounders from this year (Davis and Jones). With a top notch defence and  star goaltender, as well as three solid scoring lines, Niagara might just be the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference. It'll be interesting to see Barrie and Niagara fight it out for the division down the home stretch.
Grade: A

North Bay Battalion
In: Maurizio Collella
Out: Kyle Locke
Analysis: This is a tough one for me. Earlier this year, the Battalion did great in getting a solid return for Miles Liberati and bringing in Daniil Vertiy. But this is a deadline review and we need to assess based on the parameters I laid out. North Bay has been playing some great hockey of late and they currently sit 5th in the East, but are within striking distance of 4th. It's obvious that Stan Butler believes his team could be a real underdog in the playoffs and that they've got a real chance at home ice advantage in the first round. Playoff experience is valuable and Battalion teams are always a tough out in the first round. Keeping Mathew Santos and Jake Smith was the right move. But, I just wonder about the return that Mike Amadio and Kyle Wood could have brought back considering the lack of talent available at their positions. Were teams offering? Was Stan listening? If North Bay could have gotten back a first round '99 for each player, would Stan have done it? Something tells me that neither player was really on the market though, with the hopes of making that playoff push. Right now it looks to be potentially smart. But what if North Bay falters and finishes 7th in the Conference and is ousted in the first round? Do we look at not moving Mike Amadio in the same light as the mistake the Storm made with Robby Fabbri last year? Maybe a lost opportunity. The grade I give definitely comes with a huge asterisk. If North Bay makes some noise in the playoffs, Butler looks like a genius. If they don't, this looks idiotic. The grade I give is definitely still a TBD
Grade: C+ (with the chance to become a B or a D)

Oshawa Generals
In: Justin Nichols, Eric Henderson, Robbie Burt, Sean Allen, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 6)
Out: Michael Dal Colle, Matt Mistele, Jacob Graves, Liam Devine, Draft picks (3, 3, 3, 5, 10)
Analysis: I really like what the Generals did on the trade market the last month or so. They dealt the guys they needed to deal (Dal Colle, Mistele, Graves) in order to capitalize on their final year in the league. And they managed to bring back some quality young players who could excel with increased ice time moving forward. Henderson, Burt, and Allen can all hopefully grow as part of the new core of this team. And all the draft picks will go a long way to helping this team with their rebuild. Lastly, I really like the low cost acquisition of bringing in Justin Nichols. Don't let all these deal fool you, Oshawa still wants to make the playoffs and bringing aboard a veteran like Nichols can help in the dressing room. Getting this young team some more playoff experience is really important (see Kitchener last year). Oshawa has taken some criticism for not trading guys like Vande Sompel and Cirelli, but they'll both still have tons of value next year and I think they will in fact increase their value (especially Vande Sompel). No real risk in hanging on to them to maximize the return.
Grade: A-

Ottawa 67's
In: Sasha Chmelevski, Chase Campbell, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 5, 5)
Out: Travis Konecny, Sam Studnicka
Analysis: The package that the 67's got for Konecny and Studnicka was mighty impressive. Sasha Chmelevski could be a star in this league and he's a big time get, as are all the draft picks (especially that Owen Sound 2nd which could be quite early). But, I'm not sure I understand moving Konecny, if you're not going to go full fledged with the rebuild. Ottawa was clearly worried about Konecny making the Flyers next year, so they wanted to make sure they got a big return for him. But, why not move Salituro, Middleton, Addison, or any of the other OA's? With some major holes heading into next year, I can't see Ottawa being extremely competitive and I think they need to tear it down a bit. Salituro's value will never be higher. And Middleton and Addison both could play professionally next year too, and if not, will also have decreased value as overagers next year. I understand the desire to stay competitive, as they push for home ice in the first round, but I think Ottawa really missed on an opportunity to start over fresh and collect some great young assets. But you have to give them credit for the return in the Konecny deal, and they're playing good hockey lately. However, I just would have gone in a different direction.
Grade: B-

Peterborough Petes
In: Brandon Prophet, Tyler Rollo, Troy Henley
Out: Cam Lizotte, Draft picks (4, 8)
Analysis: When Cam Lizotte walked away from the Petes, it definitely came as a big shock. And I think that Peterborough did a great job handling that deal. Brandon Prophet is a solid OHL defender who can replace Lizotte's toughness and size on the backend. He's a bit older and only has one more year in the league (pending he returns as an OA, which seems like a slam dunk), which obviously hurts compared to Lizotte being a year younger. But you've got to do what you've got to do to win now. Which brings me to my next point. At one point this year, Peterborough was right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference and competing for the division. But poor play the last month or so has caused them to slide to 7th in the Conference. To compound things, the Petes seemed content to sit back at this year's deadline. Where's the sense of urgency? This team is guaranteed to lose their top 3 scorers next year (Garlent, Betzold, Cornel), as well as their top defenseman (Masin). With 11 2nd rounders at their disposal over the next 6 years, wouldn't it have made sense to go out and improve this club which has reached the climax of a few years of rebuilding? Another offensively oriented defender (someone to start the breakout and do a better job quarterbacking the league's worst powerplay) could have gone a long way. Ditto for another scoring option to give the team more depth. With Kingston, Barrie, Niagara, and even to an extent, Mississauga getting better through trade, I just don't think you can sit back and watch. Especially when you've got the necessary ammo to make a move. The Petes are a team that just seems content to be mediocre. This grade might be an "F" if it weren't for doing a good job of salvaging the Lizotte situation.
Grade: D+

Sudbury Wolves
In: Ryan Valentini, Jarett Meyer, Draft picks (4, 7)
Out: Chad Heffernan, Matthew Menna, Trenton Bourque, Draft picks (2)
Analysis: Sudbury didn't do a whole heck of a lot, save for a few minor moves. And to be honest, that was expected. The Wolves didn't have much to deal, save for some overagers. And the OA's that Sudbury has really didn't have a ton of value. In that sense, it's better to keep them around as leaders of a young group that has been playing better lately and who has definite playoff aspirations next year. I will say that this grade is influenced by giving up a 2nd rounder for Ryan Valentini. Sure it's a pick in 2019 (a year where the likes of David Levin, and this year's top pick will be in their prime, so Sudbury should be highly competitive), but it's still a 2nd rounder for a '97 who had yet to even prove himself as an OHL player and who was a free agent signing by London. Take a chance on players like that...sure. But not at that price.
Grade: C+

Western Conference

Erie Otters
In: Mitchell Webb, Draft picks (10)
Out: Frankie Pucci, Draft picks (10)
Analysis: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. At least that's the mantra Erie seemed to take on at the deadline this year. The OHL's top team stood pat and chose not to make any additions. Problem is, all of their rivals did and have made themselves better because of it. Keep in mind that Erie didn't have a ton of assets to work with (only 2 2nd round picks over the next 6 years), but I'm still somewhat surprised that they didn't go out and upgrade their forward unit. The first two lines have been firing on all cylinders all season long, but if history means anything, it's those teams that are 3 or even 4 lines deep that are capturing league crowns (and the Memorial Cup) these days. And I don't think Erie is that. If an injury happens, they just don't have the depth to make up for it. In the playoffs depth is king. A guy like Hayden Hodgson (who moved at the deadline) would have looked great alongside Betz and Pettit on a physical, veteran 3rd line. While Erie is a great team, I don't think they're good enough to be as content as they were to remain status quo.
Grade: C

Flint Firebirds
In: Luke Kirwan, Brent Moran, Matthew Menna, Keenan Reynolds, Brendan Johnston, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3)
Out: Alex Nedeljkovic, Josh Wesley, Connor Chatham, Draft picks (2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Analysis: The circus in Flint this year continued towards the deadline, as GM Terry Christiansen was let go pretty quickly after the Connor Chatham/Luke Kirwan deal. Coach John Gruden was subsequently promoted to GM. Firing your GM right around the trade deadline just doesn't seem like a great idea. Then there were the actual trades themselves. I actually don't have as much of an issue with the Luke Kirwan deal as others seem to. People are quick to forget that Kirwan was once thought to be a Top 10 player among his age group (not just in the OHL, but as a potential NHL draft pick). He has been a huge disappointment in the OHL thus far, but he's obviously a talented player working through some things. You don't finish 2nd in scoring at the U17's by accident (which Kirwan did in 2014 on the way to a gold medal). Coincidentally, John Gruden was the head of the US Development Program that year, so he's obviously extremely familiar with Kirwan's game and has a relationship with him. I think the two areas that Flint really messed up on were the Nedeljkovic/Wesley deal, and not dealing Alex Peters. When you look at the returns for some of the players around the league, Niagara got an absolute steal of a deal from Flint. By not getting back a quality 99 (one of Davis or Jones) in the Nedeljkovic deal, I think Flint really messed up. And even if Alex Peters is their captain, this is a rebuilding team who looks to be missing the playoffs. The return for Peters could have likely been pretty high (have to figure at least a couple high end draft picks). You've got to capitalize on that and move forward with the rebuild. Give Will Bitten the captaincy and let the team build around him. Then there's the fact that Flint gave up a 6th to bring in Brendan Johnston for depth, only to then give up a 7th for Matthew Menna and demote Johnston. I understand the Johnston deal was made prior to the WJC's to cover for Nedeljkovic. And I also understand that Kyle Keyser is injured and is out for the season, but in hindsight, it's still poor asset management. All in all, just not a strong first year for the franchise.
Grade: D

Guelph Storm
In: Draft picks (3, 3, 3, 5)
Out: Tyler Boston, Justin Nichols, Rights to Robby Fabbri
Analysis: Tough sledding for Guelph this year. Not trading Robby Fabbri last year is going to be a decision that haunts this franchise for a few years I think. Somehow they did manage to get a 3rd out of him this year (craziness), but it pales in comparison to what his value would have been at the deadline last year. But, we've got to grade them based on this year alone. Finding homes and getting back solid draft picks for Boston and Nichols was good. However, we're also looking at a team without many quality draft picks over the next two years (they don't own their 2nd this year or next). Not exactly great for a rebuilding team. Going to put a TON of pressure on the scouting staff to hit on every draft selection in order to make this current rebuild a successful one. I don't see the Storm being much better next year either. And what 96's or 97's will be of interest to competitive teams at a premium cost then? Honestly, not many and that's not a good thing. Guelph management certainly isn't leaving much room for error when it comes to working it's way through this rebuild (and let's be honest, this season has already contained several errors, like two wasted Import draft selections).
Grade: C

Kitchener Rangers
In: Rights to Robby Fabbri, Liam Devine, Draft picks (3, 10)
Out: Sean Allen, Draft picks (3, 6)
Analysis: Kitchener did it's damage on the market earlier this year when they picked up Miles Liberati, and signed Jeremy Bracco. The team has also had MAJOR issues on the injury front this year and hasn't really yet had the opportunity to play together as a full unit. In a lot of ways, it's been incredibly impressive that they've managed to maintain the league's 3rd best record in spite of all of this. Offensively, this team has a ton of depth and now that they're healthy, we should see them roll three fantastic scoring lines and really put a dent on score sheets. I don't blame them for not making a move there. And defensively, the team is underrated and the Liberati move really addressed the need for a puck moving defender. Tough to give the Rangers a top grade (because it's not like they did anything), but it's certainly not a failure for them either. That said, trading an unconditional 3rd for Robby Fabbri was absolutely asinine. Sonny Milano is worth a conditional 15th rounder, yet Fabbri is worth 10x that? Just not a good use of assets. There's no chance St. Louis sends Fabbri back considering how well he's played lately (recently upgraded to the first line), with all the injuries they've had, and the fact that they've already burned a year off of his ELC. Conditional deal...sure. But the unconditional terms just didn't make sense. But I guess if by some miracle Fabbri does come, I'll be the one who looks like an idiot.
Grade: B-

London Knights
In: Jacob Graves, Chad Heffernan, Rights to Sonny Milano, Draft picks (2, 3, 10)
Out: Jack Hidi, Eric Henderson, Ryan Valentini, Draft picks (4)
Analysis: I have to be honest. I'm a little bit shocked that London didn't do anything major at the deadline. Now I know that most people expect next year to be their year, but that's not a guarantee. Christian Dvorak will be gone (the player I consider to be the glue to this year's team), and Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are no guarantees to return (with the chance of cracking NHL rosters). If that's the case, there's no chance London is as good next year as they currently are. Picking up Jacob Graves wasn't a bad move (especially since it only cost them Eric Henderson, who didn't look like he was going to be given much of a role in London), because they also got a 3rd back. But, is he really much of an upgrade over what they were putting out there on a nightly basis? Mattinen and Bouchard have been looking more comfortable lately. Kind of a redundant deal. Why not use that OA spot to go out and get a top notch forward who could add some experience to the 3rd line? Of course, the wild card is Daniel Bernhardt, a New York Rangers 4th rounder, but his production in Sweden has been less than stellar this year and there's certainly no guarantee that he jumps into London's lineup and provides a spark. The Sonny Milano gamble was also smart (because it was conditional), but that's already been squashed as not happening. So did London get better? I really don't think so. And will it be enough for them to succeed in the playoffs? Again, I'm just not sure. Seems like the team really is banking on next year being their year. Better hope Tkachuk and Marner return. Their grade is still decent because of the draft pick value they got back in dealing spare parts, but at the end of the day, the deadline grade is all about team improvement (now and in the future).
Grade: B-

Owen Sound Attack
In: Trenton Bourque, Draft picks (5)
Out: Keenan Reynolds, Jarret Meyer
Analysis: I think Owen Sound really dropped the ball on this one. This is a team that has a very solid young core thanks to drafting very well the last two years (this past year especially). The Attack also have some veteran players (Schemitsch, Sharipzyanov, Lindo, their OA's) who should have had some serious value on the trade market. The team could have dealt these players for picks and more quality young players to continue a short rebuild and help the team moving forward. Of course, maybe the Attack have been told that the aforementioned three will all be returning as OA's next year, but it seems unlikely to me. At the end of the day, Owen Sound runs the risk of losing in the first round badly (no guarantee that they hold on to that 6th spot) and losing some of their key players without getting anything back in return. When you factor in the fact that the Attack don't have a 2nd rounder this year, it becomes even more concerning. There's a real solid young base here and I think management has done a great job of building that up, but I also think that they should have continued to build by dealing away a few quality veterans to help make this team as strong as it can be next year and the year after. 
Grade: D

Saginaw Spirit
In: Hayden Hodgson, Rocky Kaura, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10)
Out: Dylan Sadowy, Greg DiTomaso, Devon Paliani, David Ovsjannikov, Mitchell Webb, Troy Henley, Draft picks (2, 3, 4)
Analysis: I definitely like what the Spirit did leading up to the deadline. First let's look at the addition of Hayden Hodgson. While the value was higher than I thought it would be, it's still a smart move. He'll be back next year as an OA and should be a valuable top 6 net presence. He's definitely the type of player who experiences a massive breakout (size and decent hands in close) in their OA season. Second, let's talk about the Sadowy/DiTomaso deal. While I would have loved to see Saginaw pick up another quality '99 (considering how good their 3 recent draft picks have played this year), beggars can't be choosers when you look at the sheer number of high quality picks they got back. This Spirit team is a very talented young group who should eventually become a top team in the Conference over the next two years. And now Saginaw has a ton of draft selections (11 2nd rounders alone) at their disposal to try and make upgrades to allow the team to take that next step. Very smart asset management.
Grade: A-

Sarnia Sting
In: Travis Konecny, Sam Studnicka, Matt Mistele, Charlie Graham, Devon Paliani, Draft picks (2, 3, 4)
Out: Hayden Hodgson, Sasha Chmelevski, Chase Campbell, Kaden Fulcher, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 5)
Analysis: As I mentioned in the Niagara write up, I always commend teams for going for it in this league. Success is so cyclical and you never know what can happen with players returning/not returning, so when you've got a good team, I feel like you need to be aggressive on the market to improve. Sarnia has done just that. They needed to upgrade their goaltending with a veteran presence. Check: Charlie Graham (although I would have preferred Justin Nichols with his playoff experience). They needed to badly upgrade the scoring talent surrounding Pavel Zacha. Check: Konecny, Studnicka, and Mistele. And they managed to recoup some draft picks by dealing Hayden Hodgson. The early returns have been excellent too. I think this team has geared itself up for a strong push in the playoffs with the specific players they brought in. Mistele won a Memorial Cup last year. Travis Konecny is one of the top, on and off ice, leaders in the league and gives it all every shift. And Sam Studnicka is one of the league's top faceoff men, obviously an important skill in the playoffs. The best part is that Sarnia managed to make all these moves and should still be quite competitive next year too (especially if Konecny returns). Only gripe is the fact that they didn't make a move to improve their defense with another veteran presence. Maybe a top flight offensive guy to take some pressure off of Jakob Chychrun? Let the race for the West Division begin!
Grade: A-

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
In: Frankie Pucci, Draft picks (2, 6)
Out: Keigan Goetz, Draft picks (10)
Analysis: A pretty quiet deadline for the Greyhounds, which was a bit surprising considering all the rumours surrounding the team in the recent month. Ultimately, I think the Hounds made the right choice hanging on to Guertler and Hore, to help mentor some younger players during the push for the playoffs. They've still got a shot at 6th in the Conference and that would be great for their talented group of 98's and 99's to experience. This SSM team has positioned itself incredibly well for another run next year. Getting back a quality draft pick for depth player Keigan Goetz was a very shrewd move. My only issue is that the Soo's cupboard in terms of draft picks is pretty bare moving forward. They don't have a 2nd until 2021. So if they want to improve their roster next year, where will the return ammo come from? Ultimately I would have moved Brandon Halverson, if there was a serious market for him (of course). Joseph Raaymakers would get the reigns next year anyway and I think it would be great for him to experience the starter's role the rest of the way (especially in the playoffs). Would London, Windsor, or Sarnia have given up significant assets for him? At least the Hounds have drafted well in recent years which means they'll have some good young players to deal should they want to use them in deals instead of draft picks. Not every team has that luxury.
Grade: C+

Windsor Spitfires
In: Connor Chatham, Brendan Lemieux, Mads Eller, Ryan Sarris, Brett Primeau, Draft picks (2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 6)
Out: Luke Kirwan, Anthony Stefano, Liam Murray, Brendan Johnston, Draft picks (2, 3, 15)
Analysis: Tale of two sides for me when analyzing Windsor's deadline. On one hand, I love the deals that they made. They brought in three veteran players who can help push this young team deep into the playoffs and make sure that they hold on to that West Division lead. Chatham, Lemieux, and Eller all play the game hard and will be valuable in the playoffs. The Spits also managed to bring in some decent draft picks that they can use next year when they should be one of the league's top teams. And it cost them a few guys who weren't really working out on the current team anyway. Now, on the other hand, I think Windsor dropped the ball a bit by not using that final OA spot on a veteran goaltender (like Justin Nichols) to mentor Michael Dipietro for the rest of the year. Mads Eller should be a valuable player, but he's not likely to be a top 6 guy. Using a spot on him, instead of an OA goaltender just wasn't smart IMO. As good as Dipietro has been this year, I don't think you want to risk over working him down the stretch. You want to give your team the best chance they have to win every night (to ensure the division crown). You want to make a push in the playoffs, and you want to make sure your goaltender of the future develops great habits and is ready for next year's starting role on a potential Memorial Cup team. Again, love the moves they did make, but just wish they had brought in that goaltender.
Grade: B

Who do you think were this year's winners and losers?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2016)

This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to take a look at the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams.

For the first time in a few years, none of the players on this list have signed an NHL contract already, but even if they had, they would still be included. This list intends to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level. 

Likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Matt Mistele). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).

Here's the list:

10. Sam Studnicka - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Fits the mould of the "lunch pail player." That's certainly not meant to be a knock on him either. Studnicka plays the game the right way, with his heart on his sleeve. The 6'1, 200lbs center is used in all situations by the 67's and has been one of the team's most important players the last two years. Currently serving as the team's alternate captain, Studnicka is one of the league's top faceoff men and is also terrific away from the puck. Offensively, he's got good hands in close to the net and he knows his role is to go hard to that area (with or without the puck). He could certainly serve as a solid energy guy at the next level, who can kill penalties and tire out opposing defenses below the hash marks.

9. Jack Flinn - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
I don't think there is any doubt that his size is going to intrigue NHL teams. At 6'8, Flinn covers a TON of the net. His movements in he crease are a little awkward, but when he drops down into the butterfly, he's very hard to beat. He's also improved a lot in terms of his rebound control over the course of his three year OHL career, progressing from a pure puck stopper, to a guy who can control the play and swallow up rebounds. He's been very consistent for Mississauga this year, the stabilizing force the team needed between the pipes. I could definitely see an NHL team taking a chance with him, to see if their goaltending coaches can continue to improve his athleticism, and positioning. 

8. Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
Betz is a hulking power winger who has succeeded greatly since being elevated to a scoring line in Erie last year. This year, he's been doing a lot of damage on the second line of the Otters, so it's not as if he's been riding the coattails of Debrincat or Strome. His skating is only average, but his ability to control the boards and move without the puck makes him a valuable complimentary offensive piece. With his size (6'5, 220lbs), he could be a valuable net presence on a 3rd or 4th line at the next level, especially if he continues to improve his skating. Spent a lot of time at Detroit's camp this offseason (rookie tournament and main camp), so perhaps they'll still have interest in him.

7. Brandon Robinson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Started off the season guns a blazing with 7 goals in the first 7 games, but has been mired in a bit of a scoring funk since. He also missed pretty much the entire month of December with an upper body injury. Robinson was once a highly thought of draft prospect, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from really establishing himself as a serious NHL prospect. However, he had a very solid year last year (might have been Kitchener's best forward), and I've long believed in his NHL potential. He's got great size at 6'3, 215lbs, has deceptive speed, especially coming off the wall, and he can be a real physical force out on the ice. Depending on his health, and how he finishes off his last OHL season, he could certainly move up on this list too (even if I only put out one). 

6. Greg Betzold - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Betzold's offensive explosion has been long overdue, expected by OHL followers several years ago, and not just in his overage season. But, better late than never. Peterborough's leading goal scorer this year, Betzold is a very powerful player who excels in a North/South game. He's very strong on the puck, and with an above average skating ability, is great at taking the puck to the net. He's also got a solid wrist shot, which he has learned to utilize coming down the wing. Without the puck, Betzold is a very effective forechecker who relishes in the opportunity to play physical in puck pursuit. I definitely think that he's got the potential to play as a 3rd/4th liner at the next level based on his physical gifts and improving offensive game. 

5. Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
I don't think there's any doubting that Williams has been one of the top two netminders in the league this year (along with Mackenzie Blackwood). After a rough year last year, where he battled major inconsistency issues, Williams has re-established himself as a frontline starter in the OHL (after emerging as one in 2014). Williams doesn't have the elite size that NHL teams covet in the position now, but he does have terrific athleticism, as he moves very well in his crease. As such, he's able to be aggressive in challenging shooters, with the opportunity to recover quickly. His rebound control and ability to fight through traffic to see pucks has improved this year, after being a bit of a sore spot last year. 

4. Lucas Peressini - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Last year's OHL goaltender of the year, Peressini has been nearly as good this year, backstopping the Frontenacs to a division lead thus far (a place many people did not expect them to be). Over the last 20 years, only one winner of the OHL goaltender of the year has not gone on to sign a professional contract immediately following the conclusion of his OHL career (Michael Ouzas), so the odds are certainly in Peressini's favor. He's got good fundamentals in the crease (positioning, rebound control, reads, etc), and he also has good size. Would be really surprised if he's not playing in the AHL/ECHL next year.

3. Jordan Maletta - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
You have to really give it up to Maletta. He has worked extremely hard to transform his game after struggling in his first two years in the league. The former Windsor Spitfires first rounder has improved every year since a trade to Niagara and has become an integral player for them the last two years. Maletta has become a very complete player who uses every inch of his 6'3 frame to play in all three zones. His puck protection ability has become a real asset and his wrist shot and release are pro caliber. Maletta also happens to be one of the best faceoff men in the OHL. With his size and skill set, he should certainly attract attention from NHL scouts hoping to find a quality 3rd/4th line center. 

2. Miles Liberati - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
There's almost always a player like Liberati on this list. Last year it was Joseph Blandisi. That is, a player who returns to the OHL as an overage free agent after having his rights let go by an NHL team. The Vancouver Canucks let his rights expire and Liberati returned to North Bay for his overage season (only to be traded to Kitchener for a king's ransom). Liberati appears to have used this as motivation to be better as he looks like a different player this year. He's always been a solid OHL player; a guy who can lead the rush, or make a nice defensive read. But he's never been a dominant player. On many shifts this year, he's been just that, especially since coming to Kitchener. He's been super aggressive in leading the rush and jumping up in the play, showcasing an added extra gear to his stride. Defensively, he looks stronger and is playing with more confidence in the corners and in front of the net. If he continues to dominate shifts in Kitchener and leads them into the playoffs, I'd be surprised if an NHL team didn't give him a second chance.

1. Stephen Harper - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Without a doubt, Harper is the top OA free agent available. He's really the only guy on this list that I'd be willing to bet on getting an NHL contract. Has everything NHL teams are looking for. Plays a coveted position; center (check). Has terrific size; 6'3, 215ls (check). Has improved his agility and top speed greatly over the last two years, and has ironed out the issues he's had with consistency away from the puck. He's now a puck hound who's very aggressive on the forecheck and who uses his size exceptionally well to gain possession and keep it. Harper is aggressive in driving the net and is both a solid playmaker with good vision, and a good finisher with nifty hands near the crease. Put everything together and you've got a solid power center prospect built to play in today's NHL. Just don't move him back to defence. 

Honorable Mentions (according to position)

We've got two goaltenders who have nearly 70 games of playoff experience between them. They also battled against each other in the 2014 OHL Championship. Of course, I'm referring to Justin Nichols (GUE) and Jake Smith (NB). You'd be hard pressed to find two goaltenders who've had as much success as these two. As much as they battle in the crease, and do anything they can to make a save, both are undersized for the position by NHL standards. While I certainly hope both get a professional opportunity, I'm not sure it's likely. 

Michael Webster (BAR) is just a solid two-way presence who has improved a lot over his OHL career. The captain of this year's Colts' team, Webster has solid mobility, plays an intelligent game in his own end, and could continue to improve if given a chance at the next level. Will Petschenig (SAG) is a big bodied stay at home defender who relishes in the opportunity to throw his weight around in the defensive end. You'd be hard pressed to find a tougher guy. Lastly, Tyler Hore (SSM) makes this list despite not having the best of years. Still lots of time for him to turn it around. He's got the size and mobility to be an NHL defender and his offensive game has always shown potential (even if he's never really developed confidence in it).

At forward, it might be easiest to group some of the honorable mentions according to their playing style/size. We've got two undersized offensive forwards who bring great vision as playmakers to the table; Hunter Garlent (PTBO) and Gabe Guertler (SSM). We've got two big powerful wingers who play a strong North/South game; Mason Marchment (HAM) and Mathew Santos (NB). Marchment also possesses a great wrist shot, while Santos is one of the hardest working forwards in the league. Then we've got a collection of slightly undersized wingers who bring somewhat different qualities to the ice. Aaron Berisha (LDN) is a sniper who is great at finding open space on the ice. Bradley Latour (WSR) and Anthony DiFruscia (NIA) are both hard nosed forecheckers who absolutely love battling for position near the crease. And Josh Burnside (MISS) is a speedy two-way presence who has proved to be incredibly valuable to the Steelheads thanks to his ability to play defence when needed. Lastly, we've got Barrie's Justin Scott (BAR). He's been one of the most improved players in the league the last few years. He is a great complimentary offensive player because he can work the boards well, drive the net, and has finishing ability in close. Scott would have been number 11 on this list had I extended it to that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Midseason Top 30 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2016 calendar year is nearly upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2016 Draft. The OHL season is past the half way mark (for most teams) which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

I really like the crop for this year's draft from the OHL. The top end talent is very good, with IMO, upwards of 8-9 guys vying for spots as lottery selections. This includes three guys (Chychrun, Tkachuk, and McLeod) who could be top 5 picks. The depth is very solid too, with some real potential diamond in the rough guys who look like they could end up being solid mid-late round selections. I will say that the goaltending crop has disappointed me. I thought that this would be a banner year for OHL goaltenders, but many have struggled with consistency and as such haven't established themselves as top flight prospects (at least not yet). 

Before I get to the list, it's worth mentioning that second and third year eligible players are not included (the likes of Brett McKenzie, Dante Salituro, etc). I produce a separate list for those towards the end of the season.

Also to compare, here's my preliminary top 50 from October.

1. Jakob Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
The critics have been out in full force lately, especially after his early dismissal from Canada's WJC camp. After looking so dominant as a rookie last year, this was inevitable (especially with so many top 10 candidates playing well). And while I do think that Tkachuk and McLeod are closing the gap, Chychrun is still my number one for a reason. I think he's got number one defender upside at the next level. Offensively, especially in terms of jumping up in the play and looking backdoor, he hasn't been nearly as aggressive this year. The reason for that? I'm not entirely sure. But he's got offensive potential. Don't let the critics convince you otherwise. Defensively, he remains a rock. He's so smart positionally, and is such a good skater. This makes him very difficult to gain position over (he's so good at winning races and angling out forecheckers in loose puck battles). Would I like to see him be more aggressive with the puck? Absolutely. Would I like to see him play a little more physical? Sure. But he's still a top flight defensive prospect with a great head on his shoulders. 

2. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
The thing that really stands out for me with Tkachuk is his hockey sense and vision. He's so good at gaining/keeping possession in the offensive end, and subsequently finding teammates with a pass to create scoring chances. Seems to have eyes in the back of his head in this regard. Of course, he's also very good in front of the net. He's not a behemoth, but he battles hard near the crease and has very good hands in close. Other than the speed component, he's really the complete package offensively. While his first few steps could certainly use an upgrade, I don't think he's terrible in this regard either. Keeping up with Mitch Marner isn't exactly an easy task. And because he's so good at using his body and because he's so intelligent, Tkachuk is able to slow the game down and I think that makes him look a little more sluggish than he actually is. Keith's son has proven himself to be a legitimate contender for the OHL scoring title.

3. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Honestly, I love this guy just as much as I do Chychrun and Tkachuk. I do think the upside is a shade lower offensively and thus the 3rd place ranking. McLeod is your prototypical NHL center for today's game. Great size/power, great quickness, and a solid two-way game. McLeod might be the most powerful skater in the entire OHL. His first few steps are so explosive and it makes him very hard to contain in the offensive end. I also love his aggressiveness in going hard to the net; a real relentless player. His playmaking has improved a lot, especially when working the boards. In terms of his other tangible assets, McLeod is one of the OHL's top face-off men, is already a terrific two-way player, and will engage physically to force turnovers. Really, the only thing missing from his game is an elite shot. If he can really work on his release and velocity, he could be an incredible force off the rush. As is, he's a lock for a top 10 pick IMO.

4. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
The skill level of Nylander is incredible. Every game of his that I've seen has come with at least one electrifying one on one move to embarrass an opposing defender. Having two big power forwards like McLeod and Bastian flanking him certainly helps to give him more time to operate, but a lot of the credit is owed to Nylander for creating his own space with his hands. Outside of that, second most noticeable asset is his shot. He possesses an absolute rocket and that's why he's been seeing a ton of time on the point of the Steelheads' powerplay this year. His slapshot, in particular, has a ton of velocity. While his play and intensity without the puck is inconsistent, he certainly can not be called a perimeter player. He will attack the net and has no trouble having to fight through traffic/checks to make a play. It's his board work/defensive play that will continue to need to be worked on. But the Swedish winger is every bit the NHL prospect his brother William is.

5. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Came to Windsor with a ton of hype and has lived up to all of it. One of the main reasons why the Spitfires are currently leading the West Division. Sergachev has stabilized a defensive unit that had major struggles last year. He's certainly a potential first pairing defender who is the complete package. 6'3, 200+lbs, but moves very well and is not afraid of using his size to play physical in the defensive end. Offensively, he seems to get better and more confident every game. He's now creating a least one good chance a game by going end to end and flashes terrific hands in the open ice. Most impressive IMO, has been how well he's run the point on the powerplay. Makes very good decisions with the puck and is excellent at creating shooting lanes to get his hard slapper to the net. Honestly, at this point, the top 5 as I have it, has really started to separate themselves from the others in this OHL class. All 5 look like top 10 picks come June. 

6. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
The punishing power forward started off the year very cold, but he's really turned things around the last two months. In particular, I really love how he's elevated his game with the likes of Marner, Tkachuk, and Dvorak away at the WJC's. He's keeping things simple in the offensive end and has proved to be a real load for opposing defences to handle below the hash marks. His strength along the boards and on the puck (in general) helps to open up space for linemates as he draws second defenders in. And unlike the beginning the year, Jones is doing a much better job of getting his shots to the net and not trying to force things. Jones' ability to disrupt physically has also been very evident. He's just a powerful guy. That said, I think there's still more room for him to grow as a forechecker and overall nuisance without the puck. That would really take his game to the next level IMO.

7. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
No question there are holes in Brown's game. But, they're easier to forgive when you remember that he's a 6'6 center with the potential to control the game in all facets. He loves taking the puck just inside the redline and bullying his way into the offensive zone. He's just so hard to separate from the puck. His speed isn't terrific, but it doesn't make him a less effective player off the rush. I do think that it prevents him from being more explosive in the offensive end though. He works the boards so well, but he doesn't have the separation ability that a guy like Mike McLeod does to go hard to the net. I'd also like to see Brown shoot the puck more and find more time to hang out near the crease for garbage goals/deflections. But that's part of the warts with Brown. The speed and the intensity need to improve, yet, he's still a point per game player who's growing into his frame. Where will his game be when he's filled out? That's why he's still a definite first round pick IMO. 

8. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
The little engine that could. His goal scoring numbers have dropped off from that torrid pace he started the year at, but that was to be expected. At the end of the day, Debrincat is still a offensive dynamo who leads the OHL in goal scoring as a draft eligible player. His shot and release are the best in the OHL. Generates such enormous velocity on his wrist shot and is so quick to loose pucks that goaltenders often don't even see the puck coming. Sure he's small, (5'7 is really small by NHL standards), but players like Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau are proving that small players can succeed in today's NHL. Debrincat possesses the two most important qualities that small players need. Speed and tenacity. Speed to beat defenders one on one, to get to loose pucks, and to evade checks. And tenacity to win battles that they shouldn't win on paper, and to play the game harder, and to want the puck more than the opposition. Despite the size concerns, he's still a first round pick IMO.

9. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
While some scouts still seem to favor Juolevi to Sergachev, I just don't see it. IMO Sergachev's potential is far greater. That said, Juolevi is still a very solid prospect (otherwise I wouldn't have him inside the top 10). He's a very calm and collected player who operates at both ends very efficiently. I really like how he starts the transition game. Can evade the forecheck with good mobility, or make a great first pass out of the zone and that's critical for the Knights' juggernaut offensive attack. He picks his spots to jump up in the rush, but I don't think he's got a ton of scoring potential. Defensively, he's proved to be a very solid one on one defender who uses his stick and mobility to stay ahead of attacking forwards. He'll use that same smarts to gain position over forwards in the corners, or to deflect passes in the slot. All in all, Juolevi is just a very solid two-way defender who's not flashy, but is very effective. Does that put him at risk of falling before June though?

10. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Bitten has had an absolutely fantastic first half to his season in Flint. He's emerged as the offensive leader of the Firebirds, pacing them in scoring by a large margin, and keeping them in the hunt for a playoff spot. Bitten reminds me a lot of Spirit forward and Lightning draft pick Mitchell Stephens. Plays the game with a ton of energy, regardless of the situation. He gets his nose dirty on the forecheck and the backcheck and is a very good player without the puck. I love how active his stick is in the neutral zone and while working the penalty kill. But Bitten's best quality is his speed. He might get the most breakaways of any player in the league because of his first step quickness and game breaking speed. Bitten also has very good hands and a great wrist shot to finish off plays that he creates with his speed. I expect him to continue to battle hard for a rebuilding Flint team, but then really explode at the U18's where he could play a critical role (and his speed will look fantastic on the big ice).

11. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
The big power forward has been one of the league's most improved players this year. Since being elevated to the first line with Mike McLeod and Alex Nylander, he's been an absolute force. His skating has improved greatly from last year and it's allowing him to be a big time factor both offensively and defensively. He creates a ton of space for McLeod and Nylander, by barrelling his way into the zone and by winning a ton of battles along the wall. He's become a very physical player on the forecheck and has no issue with throwing defenders to the ice to gain possession. While his physical gifts are no doubt impressive, I actually love the decisions he makes with the puck off the rush. He's got great vision and poise for a big power forward, which makes him the perfect compliment to Nylander and McLeod. As mentioned, Bastian is also a very solid two-way player who also uses his size to disrupt on the backcheck and to win battles in his own end. I wanted to put him higher, but I'm just not sure the goal scoring ability is top notch to the point where he could be a big time producer at the next level. Reminds me a lot of Nick Paul and I think he could be a solid second/third line winger and powerplay guy.

12. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Mascherin, a former 2nd overall pick, has been a consistent force all season for the Rangers. Small, but stocky, he's built like Max Domi, so I don't think there's any concern over him being 5'9. Mascherin is terrific in every area of the offensive zone. I love his ability to use his low center of gravity to keep defenders on his back, in order to utilize his killer wrist shot. I also really like his energy when battling for loose pucks and working the corners. He moves the puck very well in the cycle and exhibits patience and vision to create plays when the hole opens up. His skill level with the puck and his drive to make his linemates better, is a perfect compliment on the wing to a guy like Ryan MacInnis. 

13. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
Not flashy at all, just efficient. Raddysh is a big bodied winger who is a terrific complimentary offensive weapon because of his hockey sense and ability to play without the puck. He does a really good job of finding open space in the offensive end, filling lanes and going hard to the net without the puck. Similar to Nathan Bastian, he is also a great playmaker who demonstrates poise along the wall and off the rush. His speed and overall skating ability is only average (and that will hold back his draft position), but you can't teach the cerebral components to his game. When you combine that with his size and potential as a puck protection player, you've got a solid second round pick IMO. As he gets even stronger, I think we'll see an increase in his goal scoring numbers. 

14. Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit

Behemoth defender at 6'6, who plays a very safe game. The Finnish import is great at using his stick defensively and is already a very solid positional defender. I really like how quickly he starts the breakout, and does a fantastic job with his first pass. As the season has gone on, we're slowly starting to see him take chances offensively where he jumps up in the play or leads the rush out of his end. With good mobility, I wonder if the offensive potential is higher than what we're currently seeing. The point shot will definitely have to improve in order for that to happen, but at 6'6, as he gains strength, I'd be surprised if that didn't become a weapon eventually. He certainly makes good enough decisions with the puck to quarterback a powerplay. Is there really all that much separating Niemelainen from Olli Juolevi? 

15. Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Admittedly, a tough player for me to peg still. I don't feel like I've got a great idea of his game yet, nor his potential at the next level. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that, after all the blowouts the Wolves have been on the other end of this year. That said, I do expect the young team to be better in the second half and that will give us a better read on guys like Sokolov. Here's what I've determined thus far. His potential as a goal scorer is quite high. He protects the puck very well in traffic and has a great wrist shot. However, he doesn't seem to play with consistent intensity, especially without the puck. I also can't tell if his sluggish appearance on the ice at times is due to conditioning, effort, or skating ability (or all three). But when he's on, he can be a force with the puck and that has me intrigued. 

16. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
Like any smaller defender, he seems to create quite polarizing opinions. I continue to be a supporter. I think he's made great gains this year, compared to where he was last year. I see a player with more intensity in his own end, and who is doing a better job of using his skating ability to defend off the rush. I also see him playing more intelligently offensively, limiting his reckless pinches, and poor choices with the puck. At the same time, he's continued to be an offensive catalyst who can transition very quickly from his own end. And he's looked great on the point of the powerplay this year. The scouts who don't like him seem to question his ability to defend the corners and in front of the net, and also question his overall hockey sense and effort defensively. Again, I'm seeing a player who has made great strides in all areas of his game since entering the league. 

17. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
I really believe in this player's potential. A pure, throwback power forward who looks to make a big hit every shift. Despite Guelph's struggles this year, I've found him to be a noticeable player no matter the score and I admire that. Without an incredibly talented playmaker to skate with, I don't think we've seen all that Smith is capable of offensively. He's a solid North/South guy, and he's got very good hands, but he's not yet ready to be the go to guy on his line. That's not to say that he won't develop that ability, but his inconsistent output can be credited to that IMO. I think the potential for him to be one of those picks who emerges as a top flight talent is very high. That said, I'd like to think that he's a lock for the U18 team at the end of the year, where he'll get a chance to show his stuff with better offensive players. He could be a monster at that tournament (cough, a perfect linemate for Will Bitten, cough).

18. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
At this point, it's hard to rank Day this high. I've got three defenders behind him that are having (without question) better seasons than Day. But, I think you've got to look at the big picture still. And the big picture says that Day still possesses immense potential at the next level based on his physical gifts. On a midseason ranking, I think you bump him down (which I have from 13 to 18), but you don't discredit his ability completely. Still have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Come May/June, if things haven't changed, then make a more drastic change. Day is still a 6'3, 230lbs defender who possesses elite mobility. He's shown an increased willingness to use his body to punish opposing forwards this year and does seem to be developing a mean streak. It's offensively that he remains frustrating to watch. Can be very casual with the puck at times and seems hesitant to really take over games the way he's capable of. When, if at all, does that killer instinct kick in?

19. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Thanks to playing at over a point per game over the last two months, Dineen is now 2nd in league scoring among defenders as an OHL rookie. The New Jersey native has been a revelation for Stan Butler and the Battalion. His quickness and overall ability to rush the puck is already among the best in the OHL. He is really driving North Bay offensively, by starting the breakout quickly and efficiently. Has proven to be very aggressive in jumping up in the rush and I love how Butler has taken the reigns off of him a little bit. I think the best thing about Dineen is that he's still learning and improving as a powerplay QB, which means he could be even better offensively when he gets more confidence in using his shot. Since his return from injury, Dineen and Avs prospect Kyle Wood have formed a very formidable number one pairing. Defensively, I already think that there have been improvements made, especially in his reads. He's actually seeing some PK time now, when paired with Wood. Being that he's a shade undersized, and he's an OHL rookie, strength needs to be upgraded in order to be more effective in his own end. But based on the projection we're already seeing, and the fact that Stan Butler is his coach, I think Dineen is a prospect who is seriously on the rise. 

20. Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Stanley has been making a lot of waves lately as scouts and scouting agencies have begun ranking him inside the first round. I'm not there yet, even if I have been impressed with the improvements he'd made in his sophomore season. My feeling is, teams haven't had much success over the last ten years taking hulking, stay at home types in the first round. In fact, you're just as likely to hit on those players with mid round picks (or even FA signings). That shouldn't take anything away from Stanley. He's a solid prospect. I just don't see him as a first rounder right now. Defensively, he's a very impressive player. I love his aggression in using his size and reach to prevent entry into the offensive zone. He loves stepping up into the neutral zone, or at the blueline, using his long reach to break up plays. His above average mobility makes him a tough guy to get around one on one too. Offensively, I do see potential. He's starting to look more comfortable skating the puck out and he's generally pretty calm under the pressure of the forecheck. But, I'm not sure the offensive hockey sense or puck skill is good enough for him to develop that side of his game to the point where it will be an asset at the next level. Can be prone to turnovers when he tries to do too much. At the end of the day, he's a terrific prospect trending upwards. I'm just not sold on him being a first rounder. 

21. Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Was playing some fantastic hockey before breaking his wrist (has there been a team in the East with worse injury luck than Hamilton this year?). He should return sometime soon in the New Year, where he'll be looking to pick up where he left off. Candella is a solid two-way defender who plays a ton of minutes for the Bulldogs. Following the gruesome injury to captain Justin Lemcke, Candella really stepped up to become the leader of the defensive corps (an impressive thing for a sophomore defender). He can impact the game in a lot of ways, whether it's with a great outlet pass, or a strong pokecheck of an incoming attacker. Just a very smart player who should only get better as he gets stronger and is insulated by better players. 

22. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Has really picked up his game of late after struggling mightily to start the year. Since the acquisition of Matt Mistele, the two have found very good chemistry and it's allowed Kyrou to simplify his game a little bit and get back to the things he does well. Early on, I felt like he was trying to do too much offensively and had developed a bit of tunnel vision. And he also wasn't displaying the type of energy we had become accustomed to away from the puck. But, as I said, all of that has changed in the last month or so. He's back to being a major factor on the forecheck and in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers and looking to be aggressive with his entrances to the offensive zone. Having a guy like Mistele on his line has opened up a bit more room for him to operate and he's back to showcasing that terrific vision and playmaking ability that he did as a rookie. His December production has been very impressive (especially since most of that damage was 5 on 5 because he sees little powerplay time), and if he continues that production over the rest of the year, he'll move back up into early 2nd round consideration.

23. Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The rugged rookie winger has proved to be an excellent addition to the Greyhounds lineup this year. One could actually argue that he's been their most consistent offensive player. Katchouk plays a solid North/South game, attacking well on the forecheck, working the boards, and going hard to the net (with and without the puck). Because of his hard work in the offensive end, he's quite often the beneficiary of scoring chances and he's done well to capitalize on most of those, showing great hands in close. With size, speed, grit, and an improving skill set, Katchouk looks like a solid 2nd/3rd rounder with the upside to develop into a terrific energy guy at the NHL level.

24. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
One of the more disappointing draft eligible players this year for me. I expected the gigantic forward to have a huge year (pun intended), and that just hasn't been the case. At 6'6, and with great speed, Gettinger's potential package is still too big to ignore. But his play on the ice this year has been pretty indifferent (save for a great performance at the Ivan Hlinka). I think he's a player still in search of an identity; a guy who has yet to realize how to use his size most effectively at the OHL level. Too often he tries to play the skill game, trying to beat multiple defenders, instead of dumping it in and using his size to gain and maintain possession. Last year as a rookie, he showed a lot of promise as a net presence, but I haven't seen him parked out near the crease enough in my viewings of the Soo this year. I've seen some people question the hockey sense, but I honestly don't think that's it. I truly believe we're just looking at a very raw player who's yet to find his niche and confidence at this level. 

25. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
It's interesting to compare Middleton to Windsor's Logan Stanley, considering Stanley is currently receiving first round consideration from many. Right now, Stanley is most definitely the superior player. But is their NHL potential really all that different? Both are hulking defenders with raw offensive games with the potential to be big time shutdown defenders at the NHL level. The real difference IMO, is Stanley's aggressiveness and confidence in jumping up to the neutral zone/blueline to use his size to make plays. Too often, IMO, Middleton allows the attacking forwards to bring the battle to him, engaging them too late and playing too passive one on one. He's super aggressive in the corners and in front of the net, which is great. But to really take his game to the next level, I'd love to see him be harder to play against in all facets of the game. Offensively, he's still relatively passive with the puck, so it remains to be seen just how much that part of his game can grow. I do honestly believe that the potential here is very great.

26. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
A natural center, Bunnaman has been playing a lot on the wing this year and he's looked good doing so. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's a real big body and I love how he controls the boards and the cycle game. His ice time has definitely fluctuated with the depth of Kitchener's lineup, but he's always noticeable on the ice because of how hard he works away from the puck. There's definitely an element of skill to his game though. I think he is a very cerebral player, and I see a lot of potential as a goal scorer with his heavy shot. I suppose the question is, moving forward, is he a winger or a center? If he can continue to upgrade his skating, I think he could be a very dominant two-way center who can control the possession game. In that role, he'd have a ton of value to an NHL team, at least more than he does as a North/South energy winger.

27. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Like the rest of his teammates, Barron has had a very tough month of December. There's no question his game is more than what he contributes on the score sheet. But, with how little he's been able to find the net this year, I do think that you have to wonder just how high is NHL potential is. A great forechecker, two-way player, and overall energy guy, Barron is also a potential future captain at any level he plays it. But, at times, he seems unsure of what to do with the puck on his stick. His confidence offensively really needs a big boost. When you compare him to a guy like Boris Katchouk, Barron is the more hyped player, but Katchouk brings similar qualities to the table, yet is proving to be the better offensive player right now.

28. Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights
Doing a lot right now without quality ice time (no powerplay time, fluctuating ice time 5 on 5). London has certainly been no stranger to having their 3rd/4th line players drafted, only to develop them into fantastic NHL prospects (cough, Christian Dvorak, cough). Pu is a potential power forward who really excels at driving the net, coming down the wing. He's already quite strong on the puck and is able to operate very effectively off the rush. Away from the puck, he engages physically and has really gained the trust of the coaching staff as a dependable role player in a very deep lineup. In particular, I think he's got a ton of potential as a goal scorer because the hands are good and his wrist shot has great velocity. 

29. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Small sample size (8 points in his last 4 games), but it really looks like Felhaber has finally awoken from his slumber. Easily one of the most talented 98's in the OHL, Felhaber looked (quite honestly) lost to start the year. Not sure if the cut from the Ivan Hlinka team crushed his confidence, but he certainly did not look like the same player who often dazzled as a 17 year old rookie last year. Way too many offensive zone turnovers from trying to do too much with the puck and not enough effort without the puck to make him noticeable for the right reasons. But, as mentioned, he's really turned things around of late. He's been utilizing his speed to buzz around the offensive zone again and has been working harder without the puck to get himself in great position to use his fantastic wrist shot. He can really dominate shifts with his ability to control the puck. But the effort level working the boards and the backcheck has been increasing too. Let's hope that this a return of the real Felhaber, and that he continues this torrid pace to close out the year. He'll certainly move back up draft boards quickly if that's the case.

30. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
Have to give credit where credit is due. To start the year, Parsons would definitely not have been my top rated goaltender from the OHL. And I must say, I'm still a little bit leery of it. But, you have to commend him on the way he's played this year. He's been without a doubt, the best of those first time draft eligibles. Sure, he plays for the London Knights, but he's been getting better and better as the season has gone on, gaining confidence (and should be applauded for his invite to the U.S. WJC camp). I don't think he's the most athletic netminder available, and he's definitely not the biggest, but he does a good job of making tough saves look easy because he tracks the play well and is solid positionally. And his rebound control has already improved a lot from his rookie season. Early on, I thought that London might upgrade in net, but I think that with his play of late, the Knights seem confident that Parsons can be their guy to lead them to the Memorial Cup. Again, he deserves credit for that.

Honorable Mentions
31. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Just on the cusp of being inside my Top 30. Extremely quick and skilled, and his play away from the puck has improved, but I do still have questions as to how well his game will translate to the next level.

32. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Canada's starter from the Ivan Hlinka has had a downright awful start to the season. Seems to have really lost his confidence, giving up bad goals, not tracking the play well. Still has the most potential of any goaltender in this OHL class though and that needs to be reflected in the rankings.

33. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
Figured he'd be right there with Wells, neck and neck for the top goalie available. And while his year hasn't been as bad as Wells', it hasn't been great either. Has been playing better of late, even if the stats don't necessarily show that. Gets hung out to dry a lot by Saginaw's inconsistent defence.

34. Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Started the year very well, but has slowly been pushed down the depth chart thanks to indifferent play. Certainly has potential as a strong two-way player, but seems both hesitant to engage physically at times, and to take chances with the puck. 

35. Nicholas Caamano - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Definitely moving up my list. Big body who has shown great chemistry with Will Bitten on Flint's top line. Excels near the crease and knows and accepts his role on the line with the speedy Bitten. If he keeps it up, he'll crack my top 30 come season's end.

36. Ben Gleason - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Trade to Hamilton has done wonders for his game. Is really excelling as an offensive defender and has really improved his ability to lead the rush. Defensively a work in progress, but I think he's also being asked to do too much on a weak Bulldog's team.

37. Alan Lyszczarczyk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
I guess we better learn how to spell his name. Has proved to be an excellent FA signing by the Wolves. Speed and skill off the wing and plays the game with little fear. Inconsistencies can be explained by a lack of strength. 

38. Kyle Maksimovich - Forward - Erie Otters
Another undersized offensive firecracker on the Otters. While not as small as Debrincat (5'9), he's still undersized by NHL standards. Is a terrific energy guy who is the perfect compliment on a scoring line (blocks shots, kills penalties, goes to the net). I do wonder what the offensive potential for the next level is though.

39. Domenic Commisso - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Since being elevated to the top line in Oshawa, Commisso has been a revelation. He's not huge, but he's impacting the game in a lot of ways. He's showing great hands in the open ice and creating off the rush. He's playing physical on the forecheck and winning big faceoffs. If he keeps up this level of play, there's no question that he continues to rise on my list.

40. Stephen Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Gained some confidence at the Ivan Hlinka and has carried that into the OHL season. Good sized goaltender who's shown flashes of brilliance for the inconsistent IceDogs. After the WJC's, isn't likely to see many starts, but has probably done enough to be a late round pick.

41. Austin Osmanski - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Tall, lanky defender who has been a real surprise for the Steelheads. Protects the crease and is smart defensively. Has shown flashes offensively too. Definitely some potential there.

42. Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Struggling a bit with the role that Marty Williamson is asking him to play this year. A highly skilled center who's in more of an energy/defensive role right now. Has good size down the middle and could explode if the Dogs upgrade their secondary scoring on the wing. 

43. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Interesting player to watch in the second half depending on what happens with Halverson. Definitely a potential starter. Inconsistency has kept his draft ranking down this year, but he should eventually be a solid OHL starter. 

44. Jordan Sambrook - Defence - Erie Otters
When he's gotten the chance to see more ice time (injuries, WJC's, etc), the OHL rookie has done a lot with it. Solid at both ends of the ice. Could be a potential late round steal depending on how much we see him in the second half.

45. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Hard nosed center has been better lately. Not ideal size for the type of game he plays, but he is the prototypical Butler esque two-way center. Development of his goal scoring ability key moving forward.

46. Troy Timpano - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Has returned from injury and is playing some good hockey. Still gets hung out to dry a lot by a weak Wolves defence, but is making more big time saves and is getting his confidence back. Likely still the goalie of the future for the Wolves.

47. Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Big bodied center who has some speed and potential as a puck protection beast. Has upped his physical game this year, but goes through stretches of disappearing completely offensively. He's been out for a few weeks now with an upper body injury.

48. Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Has been making the most of his 3rd/4th line ice time. Hard working center who battles for every inch on the ice and actually has good playmaking instincts IMO. Could be a tad undersized for the type of game he plays (in the NHL's eyes), but as he gets stronger, he could be a force at both ends.

49. Nicolas Mattinen - Defence - London Knights
Has been making the most of increased ice time as of late. Could be the team's biggest trade chip at the deadline. Great size at 6'4, 220lbs and I've been impressed with how much he's already improved this year. Could be a guy to watch in the second half.

50. Noah Carroll/Brandon Saigeon - Defence/Forward - Guelph Storm/Hamilton Bulldogs
Decided to lump these two together. Probably the two most disappointing players in this draft crop thus far. Both "B" rated prospects before the season and now looking like long shots to get drafted. Carroll appears to have lost all confidence in his offensive game and struggles to get noticed defensively when his team is constantly battling in their own end. And Saigeon has been largely invisible. Inconsistent in every way imaginable. Needs to get back to playing physical and keeping the game simple in the offensive end. Thought he looked like a Mike Richards clone last year, but this year looks like a borderline OHL player, let alone an impact guy. Still time for both to turn things around.