Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Under the Radar Draft Eligibles for 2016

The 2015/16 OHL season is now nearly a third of the way complete. This means that the draft crop has really started to take shape. With my preliminary media/scout Top 10 being released last week, it's a great time to take a look at some of the guys flying under the radar right now.

Here are 10 guys to really keep an eye on over the next two thirds of the season (in alphabetical order).

Nathan Bastian - Mississauga Steelheads
The hulking winger is very quietly close to the Top 30 in OHL scoring and has been sensational since he was elevated to the top line with Nylander and McLeod (following the Josh Burnside suspension). His skating has really improved over the last year and he keeps pace with the speedy McLeod and Nylander, using his size very well to drive the net wide. But he's also exceptionally smart with the puck and has great playmaking vision for a big guy. Doesn't force plays and plays within his game. He's also really starting to play with an edge. At 6'4, 210lbs, his size, skill, and smarts are going to be highly coveted come June.

Will Bitten - Flint Firebirds
The Flint Firebirds are certainly not a terrific team right now. But, they are right in the mix for a playoff spot in the West; hovering around the .500 mark. One of the major reasons for this has been the play of Will Bitten, who has put the team on his back offensively. He currently leads the team in points by 11 (at 29), and is a force in all situations. He kills penalties and sees key defensive responsibilities too. Bitten's not the biggest (5'10), but he's playing with a huge chip on his shoulder right now. I definitely think he's a candidate for the later part of the first round come June.

Cole Candella - Hamilton Bulldogs
The Hamilton Bulldogs might just be the weakest team in the Eastern Conference. But they've also had some tough luck so far this year. They lost captain and defensive stalwart Justin Lemcke for the rest of the year (due to a horrific leg injury). Candella is a second year defender who has really stepped up in his absence to take control of a young defense corps. A jack of all trades kind of defender, Candella has been showing a lot more offensively in recent weeks, and as his confidence grows, so will the production. With good size and a well rounded skill set, he's certainly a candidate for a top 3 round selection.

Cam Dineen - North Bay Battalion
I've been pumping this guy's tires a lot so far this season, so forgive me if you're tired of hearing about him. But he's jumped right into the OHL as a first year player and already looks incredibly comfortable as an offensive defender. He's currently just outside the top 10 in the league in defensive scoring and has done a remarkable job being one of the team's only offensive catalysts from the backend (with Kyle Wood out to start the year, and only recently returning). His skating ability is top notch and he's got great vision leading the rush. Defensively, he's certainly got a lot to learn, but with Stan Butler guiding him, I'd say he's in pretty good hands.

Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hard nosed, high energy winger who's gotten off to a great start in his first full season in the league. Is very dangerous on the forecheck and he does a great job of using his size to separate players from the puck along the wall. As such, he's proven to be a perfect compliment on a scoring line because he's winning battles and opening up space. But he's no slouch in the skill department either. He's proven to have very good hands in close and is capitalizing on a lot of the chances he's getting. The Hounds continue to pump out quality players and NHL prospects.

Alan Lyszczarczyk - Sudbury Wolves
You better learn how to spell his name. Lyszczarczyk is a terrific story out of Sudbury this year; a free agent pickup who played in the Czech Republic last year. He's really taken off after being elevated from the Wolves' 4th line to one of their scoring lines. Not a big kid, but he seems to have great work ethic on the ice, always battling for space. He's certainly not shy of traffic. Given Sudbury's inconsistencies as a young team, there will no doubt be ups and downs. And he'll no doubt look invisible on some nights. But the skill set is certainly intriguing enough to keep an eye on.

Adam Mascherin - Kitchener Rangers
Kind of the forgotten man of this draft class. Was a very high OHL draft pick and a highly touted player. Was part of the struggles that Kitchener had in the scoring department last year and as such it seems like people have forgotten about him a little bit. Bottom line is, Kitchener is playing terrific hockey this year and Mascherin looks like a totally different player. He's driving the play and is terrific in possession, working the middle of the ice just as well as he controls the boards. He's not tall, but he's stocky; built very much like Max Domi. His shot is a big weapon and I think he's only going to get better. No doubt he's going to get a ton of exposure in the second half on a good team.

Markus Niemelainen - Saginaw Spirit
Niemelainen is an import defender with an incredibly imposing frame (6'6), but who is looking more and more comfortable in the league by the week. He moves incredibly well for his size and that makes him very difficult to beat off the rush. He plays a very safe offensive game right now, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Moves the puck up ice very quickly and efficiently with a great exit pass. He's not taking many chances with the puck and I do wonder how much offensive upside there is, but, the fact that he's already improved this year makes him a big time player to watch down the stretch.

Givani Smith - Guelph Storm
Make no bones about it, the Guelph Storm are absolutely awful this year. But one of the reasons to watch them play is Smith; a real throwback power forward who plays like a bull in a china shop in the offensive end. Without the puck, he's an exceptionally aggressive player who throws his weight around and hits with a purpose. But he's also got great puck protection ability already and uses that to drive the net to create scoring chances. If he were playing with some more talented playmakers, I guarantee that we'd be talking about this guy as a potential first rounder. At this point, you'd have to consider him a shoe in for the U18 team, where he'll have a great opportunity to impress scouts.

Logan Stanley - Windsor Spitfires
Making waves recently because of how high (28) TSN scout Craig Button had him. Now, I'm certainly not ready to put him that high (especially ahead of Max Jones), but he has shown great improvement in his game from a year ago. Possesses great size at 6'7, and is already aggressive in using that to assert physical dominance in the defensive end. The Spits have been a surprise team this year and a big reason for that has been how improved they are defensively. Lately, Stanley has been jumping up in the rush more and looking to be more of an offensive catalyst. If he can show that side of his game has significant upside, he could very well end up as high as Button has him.

Honorable Mentions

Cole Carter - Windsor Spitfires
A very small player (5'8, pushing 160lbs), but he's done a fantastic job as an OHL rookie this year. Has displayed terrific chemistry with Logan Brown. He does everything at top speed and seems to really think the game well. He's also way better operating in traffic than you would expect from such a small kid in his first OHL season. Don't know what his NHL draft chances will be, but he's certainly put his name in the discussion.

Domenic Commisso - Oshawa Generals
Who knew that it would only take Commisso's promotion to the top line to get Michael Dal Colle producing? The two of them have developed some serious chemistry and it's made Commisso a high impact player for the Generals. Average sized, but Commisso seems to have a very high hockey IQ. If he continues to see time with Dal Colle (unless he gets traded), NHL teams are going to take notice (just as they did with Anthony Cirelli last year).

Austin Osmanski - Mississauga Steelheads
Osmanski is a big defender who is really starting to blossom into one of the Steelheads top blue liners. Coach Boyd has really started to give him more ice time and his game is flourishing. Both his offensive and defensive capabilities are very raw, but he's definitely a guy worth watching.

Cliff Pu - London Knights
Started the year injured and took a bit of time getting going, but he's playing the best hockey of his OHL career right now. He's a noticeable player on most of his shifts and is making the most of his sometimes limited ice time. Pu displays some real power winger qualities and I think that as he adds strength and confidence, he could be a real force offensively and without the puck. Would be curious to see what his production would look like if he was getting consistent power play time.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Preliminary Media/Scout Poll for 2016

It's time for the first media/scout top 10 for 2016. Certainly no surprise at number one. At this point, Chychrun seems to have solidified his spot at the top of the OHL draft crop. But after that, opinions vary. Tkachuk is a consensus top 5 pick, but then we've got a large group of players vying for a spot in the overall top 10. Once again, the OHL looks to have several candidates for the lottery selections.

For those unfamiliar with how this works, I poll many of the OHL's brightest minds; those who cover the league incredibly well and know the OHL inside, and out. These contributors supply me with their top 10 available players from the OHL, in addition to some comments. I then put it all together and provide you with a cumulative list. Call it "the consensus."

As always, this list involves contributions from a rather colourful cast of characters. Contributing their rankings and thoughts to this preliminary list for 2016 were:

Corey Pronman - ESPN writer (@coreypronman)
Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)
Dan Stewart - Director of Scouting for Future Considerations (@StewartFC)
Brendan Ross - Co-Manager of DobberProspects, scout for McKeens Hockey & director of scouting for (@RossyYoungblood)
Peter Kneulman - Writer for the OHL Writers (@PeterKneulman)
Matt Grainda - Scout for TheScoutca (@graindaiv)
Tony Ambrogio - PA Announcer for the Mississauga Steelheads & TSN editor/producer (@Tony_Ambrogio)
Mike Morreale - Staff writer for (@mikemorrealeNHL)
Anthony Mauro - Director/Founder of Draft Buzz Hockey (@draftbuzzhockey)
Todd Warriner - CHL analyst for Sportsnet, Colour analyst for the Windsor Spitfires (@Todd_Warriner)
Mark Seidel - Scouting Director for NACS Hockey (@MarkSeidel)
Dennis MacInnis - Director of Scouting for ISS Hockey (@ISShockey)
Ryan Kennedy - Associate senior writer for The Hockey News (@THNRyanKennedy)  
Mike Mackley - Writer with Overtime Sports Nation and Scout for the Powassan Voodoos (NOJHL) (@Macker61)
Peter Harling - Writer for the Kingston Frontenacs & McKeens Hockey (@pharling)

and of course...myself (@BrockOtten)

Here's the Top 10 with several honorable mentions:

1. Jakob Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting

Total Votes: 16/16
High/Low: 1st (16x)
"Jakob Chychrun is a beast of an athlete who still has considerable room for growth, which makes him a rare top prospect. Not only does the explosive D have considerable potential to improve his output (last year’s 6th overall is still sub PPG on that Sarnia team), but something in his mannerisms points to physical/skillset rawness still capable of getting better and more refined. Chychrun is a cornerstone top pairing defender whose wheels are powerful, his stick in the offensive zone is a lightning rod, and defensive mapping is shutdown like. This kid belongs at the WJC in December." - Anthony Mauro

"No brainer at #1 as this stud defenceman IMO is the only one who can unseat Austen Matthews at the NHL Draft. While still unlikely if it were to happen he would be the 5th #1 in Sarnia/Cornwall Franchise history to go # 1 (Hawerchuk, Nolan, Stamkos and Yakapov) joining London for most #1 NHL picks. Has the skill set to jump to the NHL at 18 as he can be an offensive catalyst and a defensive rock." - Peter Kneulman

"Every NHL team wants to add a top pairing defenceman and the only way to do that is through the draft. Chychrun has the tools to be a top pairing franchise defenceman. He has size and skating ability that are pro ready now. He can keep up with the speed both physically and mentally. His hockey smarts are sound both defensively and offensively. He may not have elite level offensive skills and his transition to the NHL will be slower than Aaron Ekblad's was but make no mistake, Jacob Chychrun is a franchise defenceman." - Peter Harling

"Don't let the average offensive numbers fool you, Chychrun is already the best defender in the OHL. The potential is sky high at both ends of the ice. Mobility is top notch. So is the shot and his awareness of how/when to jump up in the play. Defensively, he's learning how to use his body consistently, but he's a rock. IMO he's ahead of where Aaron Ekblad was at the same age and that's saying something considering how good of a rookie NHL season Ekblad had. Most well rounded defender the OHL has had since Drew Doughty (although I've mentioned my Rob Blake comparison a few times). Really, the only thing that concerns me is the shoulder injuries. But if he stays healthy all year, I think that's moot." - Brock Otten

"Starting to pull away from the pack after he turned his quiet yet defensively effective start up a notch, now reaching levels that will challenge for top spot. Over the past handful of games, Chychrun is activating himself more offensively and it’s really added a lethal element to Sarnia’s attack. His ability to read the play and jump into action is elite and catches opposing defences off-guard. Chychrun’s strength and touch on the puck are approaching elite levels for a defenseman making him as dangerous as any forward in the league. Look for Chychrun to carry this momentum into the World Junior camp and challenge for a valuable roster spot." - Brendan Ross

"At this stage in the season he's hands down the top defenseman available in the 2016 draft. He plays a very impactful two-way game, has the build of an NHL blue liner already and offers great instincts. I like the fact he also enjoys playing physical and he has an edge to his game, much like his dad, Jeff Chychrun, did during his heyday in the NHL. Some scouts have compared his style and demeanor to Scott Stevens during his draft year." - Mike Morreale

2. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
Total Votes: 16/16
High/Low: 2nd (14x)/4th (1x)
"Strong on the puck, good playmaker who gets to the net and finishes. Tenacious, good in traffic and sticks up for himself and teammates...just like his Dad. Playing with Marner and Dvorak means early season stats should continue." - Todd Warriner

"Tkachuk is a highly skilled winger with two-way capabilities. A player who combines a strong work ethic with tremendous hockey sense to be effective in all three zones, Tkachuk excels both as a playmaker and goal scorer. A player that shows deceptively good hands, Tkachuk boasts an excellent shot that combines a quick and deceptive release with strong accuracy and impressive velocity. Tkachuk also protects the puck effectively, shows above average pucks control and makes good decisions in possession. Tenacious on the forecheck, Tkachuk shows a willingness to engage physically and will use his size to his advantage excelling on net drives off the rush, while also showing no hesitance to play in and through traffic. On the defensive side of the puck Tkachuk is equally effective again showing his tremendous hockey sense and anticipation skills to be effective. A player who shows a willingness to clog the shooting lanes, Tkachuk is strong positionally, gives a strong effort on the back check and wins the majority of his puck battles. A player with an excellent work ethic and impressive attention to detail Tkachuk has made a seamless transition to the OHL." - Mike Mackley

"This pro-style forward has had absolutely no difficulty transitioning to the OHL game as the freshman winger is clipping along at nearly two points-per-game, good enough for second in the league at the time of this report. His skill in possession, relentless puck pursuit and impressively quick (and smart) hockey mind allows him to process plays quicker than his peers and dominate possession time. He’s tenacious and silky around the crease and while he’s not a pure dangler or brute force, his ability to create by exploiting lanes and openings is high-end.  This kid has NHL star potential." - Brendan Ross

"Matt Tkachuk is a chip off the old block as a power winger with eyes in the back of his head and a willingness to absorb a considerable physical toll to make plays. Everyone loves the points, but what really defines Tkachuk is the pro style methods he uses that make the true hockey nut smile. As easy as he makes the no look pass, he can just as easily throw a reverse hit to gain possession or relieve pressure in his own zone. Tkachuk is smart, plays the game hard, and has top line skill as a player that can play any style you need him to." - Anthony Mauro

“Grit and smarts are what stand out for me the most. The ultimate desire to just do better than his opponent in each situation make him dangerous with and without the puck. Has a very mature understanding of the game and reads what he needs to do or where to go to be successful very quickly. Kid just has elite will to compete and a head for the game.” - Dan Stewart

"I thought Jeremy Roenick said it best when he had the opportunity to coach Tkachuk at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo in September. He said Tkachuk's compete level and intelligence really stood out. He really knew where to go and it's rare to find a player that age with that type of ability. He plays a lot like his father, Keith. He's not the fastest but his hockey sense enables him to get into good position, and he plays with a lot of grit and emotion. Will challenge to go among the top five in the draft; he has a lot of characteristics that James van Riemsdyk possessed in his draft year." - Mike Morreale

3. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 16/16
High/Low: 3rd (5x)/7th (2x)
"A tremendous all around player. Great leadership skills and it seemed every goal he scored as a rookie was a highlight reel goal. Not to put too much pressure on him, but he reminds me of Jonathan Toews, although I am not sure he will provide the offence Toews does once he gets to the NHL." - Tony Ambrogio

"Mr. Safe is a guy who plays a very well rounded game, utilizing his size and speed to drive the play in both the offensive and defensive zones. Not the highest of offensive ceilings in this class but will be at worst your NHL teams two-way second or third line centre.” - Dan Stewart

"His speed just kills. End-to-end rushes don't happen often anymore but McLeod can pull them off and he has great finishing skills, too. Great face-off guy as well." - Ryan Kennedy

"Definitely a potential Top 10 pick for me. Tremendous speed and ability to protect the puck, which makes him very tough to contain off the rush and coming off the wall. Is also very aggressive in taking the puck to the net and plays that power game, occasionally flashing physical play. The underrated component to his game is his two-way play and face-off ability. Already one of the best in the OHL at the dot. Because of all these things, he is the prototypical center that NHL teams covet now and for that reason he's going to be highly coveted in the lottery. Also, don't be surprised if he gets an invite to the Canadian WJC camp come December." - Brock Otten

"Speedy speedy speedy pivot who has the skill and size to thrive in the NHL game. Creates space for his opponents as defenders must respect his speed but give him too much room and he will punish them with his vision. Close in on that space to quickly and he will blow past you with his speed." - Peter Kneulman

"Has been impressive in his second season with the Steelheads. He has taken on a leadership role as a captain on the team and has been impressive as a playmaker. He can basically do everything at such a high pace. He has great speed and acceleration and is a natural center. His wrist shot is pretty impressive. He's Nathan MacKinnon-like in the fact he can make things happen at high speed; it's impressive. STRONG on his skates and can move and competes hard. he can do all things well." - Mike Morreale

"Solid, smart, difficult to play against. Good size, strong on faceoffs and defensively. All while posting good offensive numbers. A solid citizen, future captain." - Todd Warriner

4. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 16/16
High/Low: 3rd (5x)/6th (2x)
“Nylander is another player to make a seamless move to the OHL. Dynamic is definitely one way to describe his hands and skating technique. His offensive skill set can catch opponents off guard every time the puck is on his stick. He’s still undersized physically, but his competitive instincts make up for it.” - Matt Grainda

"I’ll admit that watching him at the Ivan Hlinka, I thought he was soft. I’ll easily admit that so far, he has proven me wrong. Nylander has shown the willingness to engage and not shy away from the physical game. He is elusive and almost always seems to sneak away from whoever is covering him. He’s an excellent skater with excellent vision and playmaking abilities. He’s already over a point per game and that will only get better as he gets more acclimated to the OHL game." - Dominic Tiano

"His puck carrying and hockey IQ is elite. He generates offense every time he touches the puck in an OHL game. He's also a little bigger than his brother which allows him to maintain possession in the corners better. So fun to watch but does need to work on some of his physical attributes." - Contributor who wishes to remain anonymous

"What’s impressive is how well Alex Nylander is doing with Mississauga and he’s not even dominating like he can. We are seeing him in spurts with highlight reel flashes, but he can do better and will. With one on one ability that can pull fans out of their seats, he has shown to be a dual threat as a scorer and playmaker. Off the puck, Nylander is undersold. He busts his ass to track down opponents and stop them from reaching his team’s back half of the ice. Nylander is a light player along the boards and needs to improve there as the season goes." - Anthony Mauro

"Phenomenal hands and stick skills...Very slippery...Still needs to trust his teammates more...Willing to engage physically more than his brother...Opportunistic scorer." - Mark Seidel

"The younger brother of Maple Leafs top prospect William Nylander, Alex Nylander was a big coup for the Mississauga Steelheads and his presence in the lineup has added a feared offensive element that was lacking previously. Much like his older bro, Alex possesses a set of silky puck handling mitts with an ability to create scoring chances with ease. He appears to be more aggressive than William and welcomes contact more and that bodes well for his versatility moving forward. Nylander has the potential to rise up this list and that’ll come as he better learns how to play within the North American system, committing to his responsibilities more consistently. Given his offensive skill set, ability to extend possession and knack for creating offence, it’d be hard to think Alex Nylander falls too far past the Top 10." - Brendan Ross

5. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
Total Votes: 16/16
High/Low: 2nd (2x)/10th (1x)
"There were a lot of complaints about his production early on, but the criticisms were not warranted IMO. Anyone who saw him play early, knows he could have easily had 2 goals a game if he wasn't gripping his stick so tightly (way too many shots fired high and wide). Since then, we've got a few hat tricks and his game has really settled down. Impacts the game physically and on the score sheet; is a real throw back power forward. Would love to see him become more of a force on the forecheck and in general without the puck though. If you're comparing him to a guy like Lawson Crouse (from last year), I think that Crouse is 100% the more complete player, and the smarter player, but Jones' offensive skill set is more dynamic. Kind of see a bit of Dustin Brown in his game." - Brock Otten

"He can be dynamic at times due to his speed, skill shot and physicality and leave you in awe. He can also go around and start doing stupid crap in terms of puck plays and going after guys, although to his credit, he's doing far less of the latter this season than he did in his USHL time." - Contributor who wishes to remain anonymous

“Love the blend of size, aggressiveness and nasty physical edge as well as underrated smarts Jones displays each game. Glad the kid is capitalizing on his limited chances recently with that wicked shot he can unload and think he could be a steal if NHL teams don’t recognize how dominant he could become.” - Dan Stewart

"Transition has taken time to the OHL but he is really coming now...Healthy dose of nastiness to his game...Pro shot...Impossible to move off the puck." - Mark Seidel

"Like Tkachuk, another big physical kid with good hands. A little less polished but competes for space and has shown a nice touch around the net of late, and is a better skater. Not playing with the same quality of players as Tkachuk but alway makes an impact. Good upside." - Todd Warriner

"A powerful, dynamic forward with a lot of impactful levels to his game. He's your traditional north/south type of player that performs at a high level and isn't afraid to use his 6-3, 205-pound frame to an advantage. He plays the game similar to the way Shane Doan, Milan Lucic and Rick Nash play, engaging physically by driving into traffic and pushing his way to the net for a good scoring chance for himself or a teammate." - Mike Morreale

"Highly skilled power forward. Jones does it all .. He's big and strong and plays with jam .. This kid runs over people to make plays ..Very tough on the wall. Has a great shot and finds teammates in the OZ. Excellent on the PP, front of the net. Has the total package." - Dennis MacInnis

6. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
Total Votes: 16/16
High/Low: 4th (3x)/8th (3x)
"Juolevi stepped onto OHL ice for the first time and immediately became a top defender in the league. He’s blessed with a well-balanced blend of offensive abilities and sound defensive awareness, while the latter can still be improved at times because he is prone to the odd poor decision. In possession as a puck moving defender, Juolevi emits a rare confidence in both rushing the puck with his advanced skating abilities and eluding pressure to make a seeing-eye outlet pass. He’s a special talent on the power play with his poise and smart puck decisions. He gets compared to former Knights standout import Olli Määtta and it’s for good reason -  although, he may be better in terms of mobility." - Brendan Ross

"Poised and patient, a good skater with a good shot. Plays in all situations, good instincts to join rush. Tireless and efficient. 2nd coming of Olli Maatta." - Todd Warriner

"Early in the season, I felt Juolevi was making bad pinches and bad decisions at the opposition blue line. Growing pains though and he’s much improved there as he gains experience in North America. Juolevi is a very capable two way defender. His positioning in his end is top notch with a very active stick and closes gaps quickly because of his skating. His quick transition game is top notch." - Dominic Tiano

“Olli Juolevi is very likely the definition of calm, cool and collected on the London blue-line. A fluid and efficient skater, Juolevi can make a great outlet pass and has tremendous poise in both the offensive and defensive zones. His quick mobility and smart positioning really help him cut down the attack.” - Matt Grainda

"Highly intelligent two-way defender with impressive puck skills and skating abilities. Not a flashy player, Juolevi uses his tremendous hockey sense and elite skating ability to play a complete game. Juolevi shows poise and patience in possession, rarely committing turnovers or forcing plays. However he tends to be a pass first defenseman, showing impressive touch on his stretch passes and deceptively strong vision as he often finds a player who you would not assume is the first option. Defensively Juolevi contains the rush efficiently, forcing the opposition to low percentage areas on the ice before effectively separating player from puck. In his own zone Juolevi will engage physically but uses his body to separate player from puck rather than to throw thundering body checks. An efficient stick on puck defender, Juolevi transitions fluidly and moves the puck quickly. A player who is extremely poised under pressure, Juolevi exudes confidence in possession. Juolevi's hockey sense and skating are easily his best attributes however his offensive game continues to round out, which will only enhance the 6'2 Finns repertoire." - Mike Mackley

7. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 15/16
High/Low: 6th (1x)/Outside the Top 10 (1x)
"Scouts won’t be quick to forget the fact that Logan Brown was company with Sean Day as top prospects who couldn’t get up enough to make HC U18 Hlinka in August. That said, those same scouts will be quicker to give up their grudge because of his massive size and soft hands. Brown is a really difficult assessment because he isn’t a dominant personality, which is what you want out of a top ten pick. A lot of criticism comes from his pace of play, which is more surveying than blitz attacking and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless, it would be wise to not overscout a 6’6 forward having a very good season." - Anthony Mauro

"Another divisive prospect, I may have him higher than others because draft results still historically favor big kids with potential. Brown is certainly big with his 6-foot-6 frame, plus he has that Joe Thornton playmaking center upside that all teams crave." - Ryan Kennedy

"Logan Brown has tremendous size and really good offensive skills. Deceptively quick with the puck on his stick, Brown is able to protect and shield the puck better than most of the league. His size alone will instantly put him in the must-watch category. Great vision and set-up play along with a powerful shot.” - Matt Grainda

“Oh boy, the potential and upside this kid has shown make me want to push him all the way into the top 10 on our groups big board for the draft, not just the OHL, after a few of his viewings. His size, puck protection, skating potential, shot velocity and placement as well as his vision and playmaking skills make me think he has the potential to become a Ryan Getzlaf/Rick Nash hybrid type player if everything goes right. But there is some risk involved with projecting this player and his consistency.” - Dan Stewart

"At 6’6” and 225 pounds you have to love his size. He needs to improve his first step speed but once he hits top speed he can move. Brown protects the puck very well. He has excellent vision and can make plays at top speed, usually successfully. Brown definitely needs to work on a couple of things, mainly his play without the puck and his defensive game. Those can be taught, but his offensive skills cannot." - Dominic Tiano

"Teams looking for a potential number one centre can look to Logan Brown. Brown is a playmaking centre with size and is a powerful and agile skater. He uses his height to protect the puck and is strong along the boards dominating puck possession. His great vision makes players on his wings better and he has defensive awareness as well. Potential first line centre with Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf upside." - Peter Harling

8. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 13/16
High/Low: 5th (3x)/Outside the Top 10 (3x)
"I love the completeness of this kid's game already. Even though he's an OHL rookie, we're seeing great defense, nice offensive moves and an edge." - Ryan Kennedy

"Combines impressive physical attributes with an impressive skill set to be one of the more versatile defensemen in the 2016 NHL draft. A player that is extremely tough to play against, Sergachev uses his size to his advantage and shows a willingness to engage physically. Not your typical physical defenseman in the sense that Sergachev shows strong mobility, along with impressive offensive traits. In his own zone he shows an active and effective stick, along with impressive contain abilities and an uncanny ability to separate player from puck and transition up ice fluidly. Offensively Sergachev boasts a powerful point shot that he gets through with relative ease, thanks to his ability to create shooting lanes with subtle body movements. He makes impressive decisions without the puck as he knows when to join the rush and when to retreat while also making smart and calculated pinches in the offensive zone. Sergachev is poised beyond his years both mentally and physically." - Mike Mackley

"Smooth as they come...Tremendous acceleration...Poised beyond his years...Is better than Provorov was at the same stage last year...Smart on the PP...Has some meanness and isn't afraid to engage physically." - Mark Seidel

"Big, strong with effortless power and skill. Defends well, committed, coachable. Loves the game, and is focused on getting better. Moved to Windsor in summer and hasn't looked back. Terrific 1st month." - Todd Warriner

“Jumped over the pond and right into the Spritfires top pairing where he sees loads of five-on-five, PP and PK time. He has not missed a beat as a guy who likes to play physical defensively as well as rush the puck, or at least join the rush, and contribute offensively. His blast from the point is a real weapon for him.” - Dan Stewart

"I prefer him to Olli Juolevi at this point because I think the upside is higher. Sergachev impacts the game in every way imaginable, and with his size/mobility, you've got a potential top pairing defender if you draft him. His game is certainly not flawless, but he's gaining confidence with every game he plays in the OHL. While his ability to run the power play has been noticeable since game one, it's his effectiveness in leading or jumping up in the rush that has really been growing lately. Look no further than his 4 point performance against Mississauga on Saturday as evidence of that. He'll be a big time riser in the second half IMO." - Brock Otten

9. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
Total Votes: 14/16
High/Low: 4th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (2x)
"For good reason the 5’7’’ dynamo was under the microscope to prove he wasn’t just a byproduct of a McDavid led team – that he's done. He already has three 5PT efforts (one of them was a 5G game without Strome around), and has 8 more goals than games now in the heart of the season. He’s small, but this is a kid who is using his size to fuel how he plays. He has the vision and desire to exploit gaps in coverage near the net, size to slip through, and audacity to believe he will score. He’s smart enough not to put himself in bad scenarios, and it’s not like you’re picking him for his boardplay. If you want pure offense, go with DeBrincat." - Anthony Mauro

“DeBrincat is off to a dynamite start. The current OHL scoring leader has done an excellent job taking control of the Erie offense. His skating and quickness are elite and his toughness helps make up for his size. There is no fear in his game. The kid is very elusive and his lightning quick shot is hard to contain.” - Matt Grainda

"Is one of the more intriguing prospects we'll scout this year. He has an obvious and unique skill set which combines well with his tenacity to score. His size (5-7, 163) is not an asset, but it's not affected him from being able to consistently generate offense. He has the potential to be one of those special smaller players that finds his way to the NHL; similar to Brian Gionta and Johnny Gaudreau." - Mike Morreale

"A truly special player. Has one of the best shots in the league (NHL caliber release). But it's his tenacity, with and without the puck, that sets him apart. Works hard to get his scoring chances, and does such a good job of finding scoring lanes and loose pucks. But, at 5'7 there will be questions about durability. Same reason Robby Fabbri fell and he isn't 5'7. I will say this though, in all the times I've seen Debrincat play, I don't think I've ever really seen him take a licking. He doesn't put himself in vulnerable positions very much, despite playing the game hard. Picks his spots well. That could quell the concerns of some teams. Especially when you talk about a guy currently on pace for 100 goals on the season." - Brock Otten

10. Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Total Votes: 6/16
High/Low: 6th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (10x)
"He's one of the top Russian players of this year's draft class since he possesses Patrick Kane-like playmaking skill to complement a very strong shot. He has a bull-like frame (5-11, 220) but is so skilled it's hard to believe. He's posting solid offensive numbers in his first season in North America with the Wolves." - Mike Morreale

“The big Russian has a bullet of a shot, the hands and creativity of a wizard and the body of a moose. The conundrum of the OHL crop so far as he has so much talent and ability to take over a contest but is lazy and lacking drive most shifts. His conditioning is a concern, but not just the baby fat he carries, but more the major concern centering on his unwillingness to rectify it and work hard to improve himself.” - Dan Stewart

"Sokolov is widely ranked quite high, and some scouts believe he could be a top ten, even top five ranked prospect by the end of the year. So far it has not worked out as apparently he reported to camp over weight and with a conditioning problem. The skills are there, but it takes more than skill." - Peter Harling

"Good scorer at this level but won't score at the next level unless his skating and compete level improve. Looked slow and conditioning might be an issue. Not the same player I saw 11 months ago when he was tearing up the U-17 tournament." - Dennis MacInnis

Honorable Mentions

Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights (4 votes)
Highest Placement: 9th (2x)
"Couldn't be more impressed with his progression this year as a defensive player. Defends similarly to a guy like Travis Dermott in Erie. Short and stocky with great mobility and anticipation. Always seems to be in the right place positionally this year.  Offensively, he's a more natural playmaker when compared to Juolevi and Sergachev, so if he can continue to prove his worth in his own end, he's only going to see his value go up." - Brock Otten

"I believe we're at a point where NHL teams recognize the abilities of offensive defensemen who may not have tremendous size. This will help a player such as Mete, who can certainly put up points from the back end." - Ryan Kennedy

"Size will be an issue with Mete but I see a player vastly improved defensively. He uses his smarts along with his skating to keep players to the outside and deprive them of scoring opportunities. He’s also learned to better pick his spots in the offensive zone and it’s paid off. There’s no questioning his offensive upside. It’s there in spades. The only question was how he would handle the defensive game with his size. So far, asked and answered." - Dominic Tiano

"Best skating dmen in draft class. This guy just gets better and better every game. Very gifted offensive player. Uses his quickness to his advantage all over ice. Not a huge rear guard but he plays within his means and doesn't get himself into positions that will hurt him. Must continue to learn when/when not to jump into rush." - Dennis MacInnis

Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds (4 votes)
Highest Placement: 9th (1x)
"Will Bitten is a kid you want on your team as a building block, plain and simple. He’s having a break out season, and showing he can top off an intense, diligent game with fireworks. Bitten’s wheels are unbelievable and unremitting and he has been a 3 on 3 ace. He has a good handle on the puck for someone who is maxed out, and really doesn’t look all that much different than a guy like Konecny. Bitten is internationally decorated, strong in all situations, and is a breakaway threat with edge. If you’re looking for an underground player who could be highly rated on individual team’s lists, look no further." - Anthony Mauro

"Plays EVERY shift like his hair is on fire...Has a surprising physical component despite his size...Will surprise people with his offense...A winner..." - Mark Seidel

"An electric player who has helped Flint exceed expectations early on this season. Breakaway speed and game breaking ability who seems to be doing it all on his own in Flint. One of the more entertaining players to watch as he can explode at any moment." - Peter Kneulman

Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
"At USA camp for the Hlinka Team, he was dynamite; very impressive. He was a little inconsistent but he has the potential to be a great pro because of his size (6-5, 206), skill and skating for as big as he is." - Mike Morreale

“Gettinger is another very, very large offensive talent with some great hockey sense. He can patiently find the open spaces on the ice and maneuver himself into position for a scoring opportunity. Watch out when he’s taking a shot, because it’s coming in hot. Always seems to find the net with pressure on him." - Matt Grainda 

Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers (2 votes)

Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
"Mascherin boasts some of the most pure offensive traits of any player available in the 2016 NHL draft as the 5'9 winger is absolutely lethal in the offensive zone. Mascherin's best trait is arguably his shot, an asset that was pro ready when Mascherin was 15 years old.  On top of his lethal shot, Mascherin boasts elite skating ability, combining an explosive first stride with impressive straight line speed. A player that shows strong change of direction and pace abilities, Mascherin can be extremely difficult to contain off the rush, as the bullish winger can power his way to the net, beat defenders with his speed or stick handle around/through defenders. A knock on Mascherin was his lack of work ethic in his own zone and poor attention to detail on the defensive zone. That has since improved tremendously as Mascherin routinely gives a full effort on the back check and has become much more engaged in the defensive zone, clogging shooting lanes, and creating turnovers." - Mike Mackley

"I have been a fan of his since he AP'd for Georgetown in the OJHL his minor midget year. Was a point per game player for them in the playoffs and even earned the trust of his coach to be on the ice down a goal with less than a minute in the 3rd (he created the turnover that led to the tying goal). After an adjustment period last year the large step he has taken this year has been a key in the great start for the Rangers." - Peter Kneulman

Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 9th (1x)
"No one in this draft is as intriguing as this guy. When you watch him you think, "there is NO way he is 17 years old." Then other times you watch him and you realize, "Yup, he IS 17" Shift to shift you just never know what you are going to get. But when he is on, look out!" - Tony Ambrogio

Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads (1 vote)

Highest Placement: 10th (1x)
"At 6-foot-4, 208 pounds, he can play a power forward game and he thinks the game really well. He can sense opportunities. He can move the puck to the right guy in position and uses that size to possess the puck and hang onto it. He's also got the nice skills to complement that power game, so he's not solely reliant on power. I think as he gets more confident in a larger role there's some real good upside here." - Mike Morreale

Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 10th (1x)
"Rangy and still growing, has some offensive ability and early numbers on a weak team. Looks more comfortable everyday. Lots of upside both in terms of size and offensive ability." - Todd Warriner

Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 10th (1x)
"Call him a dark horse, but for me Barron is the type of two-way forward who will be more appreciated in the NHL than junior – and I'm sure at least one franchise will snap him up early because of it." - Ryan Kennedy

Monday, October 19, 2015

Early Season Top 30 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). Now that the 2015/16 season has started (well under way in fact), updating that list to reflect changes of opinion is a priority. That said, it's important to not over react to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season. For instance, here's last year's early season draft list.

Just as I started doing last year, I will do a top 50 for every ranking, not just the final one. I'll only write in detail on the top 30, but will include quips on the other 20 as part of my honourable mentions (with ranking).

The OHL looks strong again this year thanks to many of the new faces entering the league. 5 of my top 14 players did not play in the OHL last year. I think that as the season goes on, this crop will look even greater too, when guys like Felhaber, Kyrou, Wells, etc pick up their play. 

It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like North Bay's Zach Bratina or Ottawa's Dante Salituro). I do a year end list for those players.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 30.

1. Jakub Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
Chychrun is off to a good, but not great start so far this season. The biggest takeaway is that the Sting are currently playing great hockey and Chychrun is one of the main reasons for that. As I've said before, Chychrun is the most complete defender that I've seen in the OHL since Drew Doughty. Controls the play at both ends with his skating ability and has top notch offensive instincts. Would still like to see him play the body more, but it's coming. Not a big one for comparisons, but I see a lot of Rob Blake in Chychrun.

2. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
One of the OHL's leading scorers right now and has come completely as advertised. Top notch skill level and is incredibly dangerous below the hash marks. He's not a huge guy (6'1), but he's so good in close to the net and is fearless in the area. He's able to maintain possession near the crease and doesn't panic when scoring opportunities present themselves, utilizing good vision to find open teammates instead of forcing shots. Already a very pro ready prospect IMO.

3. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Honestly couldn't be more impressed with what Nylander has brought to the OHL this year. His hands are just incredible and he's able to extend plays in the offensive zone with how unpredictable he is. Nylander is just a terrific offensive talent. That said, I've actually been incredibly impressed with his compete level away from the puck. He's not one to shy away from contact, even initiating on the forecheck and the backcheck. While it's not an ideal comparison (pro league versus junior league), I've been way more impressed by Alex than I have William thus far.

4. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
McLeod is the center that the NHL game is built around today. Size, skill, and grit. McLeod is lightning quick, but he's also very strong on his skates. He's particularly explosive coming off the wall and has created a ton of chances on net drives this year. He's carried his terrific performance at the Ivan Hlinka into the start of this OHL season and it's got him in the conversation for the top 10 of the draft. Easily one of my favourites from the 'O' this year.

5. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
Certainly doesn't look like a rookie defender. Incredibly composed for a guy with only a handful of OHL games under his belt. Juolevi is just a very solid two-way defender. He's able to squash the incoming rush, using great mobility and positioning, and then quickly turn play up ice the opposite way with a strong outlet/breakout pass. Always seems to keep his head up in the defensive end. I've seen London play a few times already and I don't think I've seen him make a mistake yet.

6. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
Stats aren't everything. This dude has been way better than the stat line would indicate thus far (just scored his first OHL goal this weekend). If it's December and we're still talking about his lack of production, than I'll re-evaluate my position. For now, I'm still bullish on Jones. He's getting and generating a ton of scoring chances, but he's got to get the puck on net. Way too many shots high and wide. Once those start going on net, we're going to see the goals and the assists (generated from his rebounds) pile up. Jones controls the boards exceptionally well and is every bit the physical agitator/aggressor he was built up to be. Right now I'm just seeing a guy gripping the stick a little tight. Maybe that first goal opens up things for him.

7. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Another first year defender that certainly doesn't look like a rookie. Has jumped into Windsor's lineup as their number one defender and the Spits are playing terrific hockey. I actually think that Sergachev might have more potential than Juolevi, once we start to see him become more comfortable taking risks with the puck. Two things have jumped out so far for me. First is his physical bravado in the defensive end. He's already established himself as a tough guy to match up against and he utilizes his size very well, especially when defending off the rush. Second is his ability to run the point on the powerplay. Makes quick decisions and does a good job of getting the puck through to the net.

8. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like McLeod, Brown is going to attract attention because of how well suited his game is for the way the NHL is played now (centers with size who can control possession). At 6'6, 220lbs, Brown is an absolute behemoth and he's deceptively quick through the neutral zone. Once he gets going, he's very tough to stop because of how well he protects the puck. But he's also got good vision at top speed and is able to draw defenders in and find teammates off the rush for high percentage scoring chances. The 200 foot game needs work and the intensity level without the puck needs to increase, but you can't ignore his potential offensively at the next level. A lot of Ryan Getzlaf in his game.

9. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
Connor McDavid who? The OHL's scoring leader right now, Debrincat has been an absolute machine thus far. Those 13 goals are no accident with one of the best wrist shots in the league. He's heavily undersized (5'7). So what? This isn't the NHL that your father grew up with. In today's NHL, smaller, skilled players long as they have two things. The first is strong skating ability, which Debrincat has. He's incredibly quick to loose pucks. The second is the willingness to get their nose dirty and play bigger than their size. Debrincat possesses that too. He's an absolute puck hound who seems to be involved in every battle in the corners and in front of the net. When you combine those two factors with his skill level, you've got a great prospect. Deserves Top 20 consideration, even with his size disadvantages.

10. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
Couldn't be more impressed with that I've seen from Mete so far this season. Last year I thought he struggled with his decision making offensively, but he's shown a much more refined approach this year, selecting his spots to jump up in the rush more effectively. He's also been much better defensively. He's not a big guy (about 5'10), but his defensive positioning off the rush is exceptional and as such he's been able to neutralize even the bigger forwards in the league. At this point, the only strike against Mete is size IMO.

11. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Really like Gettinger as a prospect for the first round this year. With his size and skating ability, it's only a matter of time before he starts getting consistent love there. At 6'6 and with terrific quickness, he's explodes through the neutral zone, across the blue line, to create scoring chances. He's also not afraid to go the net and has great hands in close for tips/garbage goals. I've also been impressed with his work on the penalty kill this year, using his size to separate from the puck. On the negative side, he's got to learn how to extend plays in the offensive end. I've seen too many plays die on his stick, where he's trying to make his way to the net, only to be eventually stripped of the puck. The decision making should improve though.

12. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Another undersized forward who has been exceptionally good so far this season. Bitten played a key role for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka as an energy guy and penalty killer, but he's returned to the OHL a way more confident offensive player. Most pegged Flint for the bottom of the conference this year, but thanks to guys like Bitten, the team is playing well above expectations. Bitten is a terrific skater who excels as a forechecker, doing well to create off turnovers. Off the rush, he's got great hands when operating at full speed and he does a really good job creating shooting lanes for himself. And even though he's undersized, he battles hard in all areas of the ice and has grown substantially as a two-way player over his OHL career thus far. A potential first rounder IMO, who's not all that different than Saginaw's Mitchell Stephens.

13. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Because of the exceptional status thing, he's obviously always one of the more talked about draft eligible players from the OHL. The critics have been hard on him, but I think he's been pretty good so far this season. The offensive numbers aren't there yet, but they should come eventually. I think he's made gains defensively and is using his size and mobility to be a more consistent player in his own end. He's also using his mobility to be more aggressive leading the breakout. That said, he's still relatively reserved when it comes to jumping up in the play to look for scoring chances and his ability as a powerplay QB hasn't really evolved since he came into the league. At this point, because of the potential package, he still needs to be ranked relatively high. But if the offensive numbers don't turn around, his draft ranking will need to be adjusted accordingly. For what it's worth, I remember people had the same sort of reservations about Jay Bouwmeester when he was draft eligible.

14. Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
At this point, still a tough guy to get a read on. Scouting agencies still have him high (first round), but so far I just haven't seen it. But, a couple of things to keep in mind. Firstly, his ice time hasn't been significant thus far (the Wolves have been leaning heavily on their veteran players Schmalz, Jenys, and Harris, as well as rookie David Levin thus far). Secondly, the Wolves just haven't been very good. That said, Sokolov just hasn't been noticeable enough. He's scored twice, but both occurred half way through the 3rd period of blowout games. The shot and release are great, but I just haven't seen enough intensity from him. And this was something that was supposed to be a strength of his. I do expect the young Wolves to get better as the season goes on, but we'll see how much of that Sokolov involves himself in.

15. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
Doesn't get a ton of attention because he's not the world's most flashy player. But throughout his OHL career thus far, he's proven to be incredibly efficient. Was the leading goal scorer among 98's last year. And this year he finds himself in the top 5 of OHL scoring. It's all about hockey IQ with Raddysh. So effective in the offensive zone because he finds holes in the defence and knows how to play without the puck. He's one of those guys who always finds himself in the right place at the right time (but it's no accident). His finishing ability is very strong, but he's looked much more confident with the puck this year and he's using his vision to become a solid playmaker too. Skating ability isn't dynamic, so he'll have to continue to use his head to put up points.

16. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
The former 2nd overall OHL pick has gotten off to a tremendous start to this season, leading the Rangers in scoring. Mascherin certainly isn't tall (~ 5'9), but he's very stocky (built very similar to a guy like Max Domi), so I'm not quite as concerned about his lack of size. He brings a high energy level from the wing and is aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice when he's got the puck, and hungry in the corners when he doesn't. Mascherin might also possess the best wrist shot in this group after Alex Debrincat. It will be interesting to see if he continues to pace Kitchener offensively, considering the slow start many of the team's veterans have had.

17. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
A preseason favourite of mine, Felhaber has really struggled to start the year. Has only registered a single goal and 2 assists thus far and is a -8. Way too many offensive zone turnovers as he tries to force plays that just aren't there right now. Needs to really simplify things and utilize his teammates more off the rush. I think that the Hlinka cut (he was actually great at the training camp) seems to have gotten into his head and he's just trying too hard to make an impression. Saginaw (as a team) is slowly looking better and I suspect that Felhaber will get better too. He's too talented of an offensive player to be held quiet all year.

18. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Another faller from my preseason list, Kyrou's struggles this year mimic those of Felhaber's. Kyrou is a very energetic player who has terrific playmaking qualities, but he's been prone to turnovers in the offensive end. This is because he's either hanging on to the puck too long and not being aggressive enough, or because he's forcing plays that just aren't there. I think he really needs to be more aggressive in shooting the puck as defenders are taking away the pass on him, which seems to be taking him out of his comfort zone. He's still working hard without the puck, but as an average sized pivot, he's going to need to find his offensive game in order to stay in consideration for the first three rounds.

19. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Bastian is a big center who does a very good job of operating down low. He uses his size well to protect the puck in the offensive end and does a great job of shielding off defenders near the crease to get his shot away. As a boards player, he's greatly improved this year and seems much stronger. His skating also looks better, as he seems to have really improved his first few steps to be more dangerous off the rush. Would still like to see him play a bit more aggressively away from the puck, but he's actually pretty committed on the back check where he uses his reach to get his stick in passing lanes. Just a solid overall player who looks like a surefire top 100 pick come June.

20. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Looked great in leading Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka and has carried that success nicely into the start of this OHL season. With the struggles of some other goalies in this draft class, he might have a shot to be the top NA net minder selected this year. Like most top picks these days, Wells brings both size and athleticism to the crease and he's worked hard to improve his rebound control and positioning. He can still overcommit when you get him moving side to side, but he's a really solid goaltending prospect and I think that by season's end, he'll be the starter in Peterborough.

21. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Absolutely behemoth defender (6'6, 235lbs) who is slowly developing into a dominant force in his own end. When you combine his solid mobility and reach with his desire to throw his weight around, you've got a potential shutdown defender. Offensively, he's a work in progress. He shows potential as the type of guy who can skate his way out of trouble, but his decision making with the puck is questionable. Can make some boneheaded plays with the puck in his own end, especially when under pressure from the forecheck. But, he makes the odd play that makes you believe there is offensive potential in that big frame.

22. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
Still looking for his first goal of the year, but he's been better than the stats would suggest. Guelph just isn't a very good team this year, so their offence is going to be incredibly inconsistent. And that means Smith's stat line isn't likely to be very impressive all year. But you've got to look at the big picture. He's a budding power forward who can take the puck hard to the net and who excels when throwing his weight around in all three zones. Considering how well he finished out last year with more talented players, I do think that he's got Top 6 potential. And if he were surrounded by better playmakers, I bet we'd be talking about him as a potential first round pick.

23. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I have to admit, I don't really know what to make of Barron at this point. Hard-nosed North/South type winger who can affect the game in a lot of ways. Solid at both ends, physical, goes to the net, works the boards and is potential captain material. But, just how high is the offensive upside? Again, at this point I just don't have a good read on whether he's a checking line prospect (and more of a 4th-5th round guy), or a hard working scoring line complimentary piece (and subsequently a 2nd/3rd round pick). Did close out the weekend with a hat trick though.

24. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I really like this kid and thought about ranking him even higher, but I want to see him maintain his current pace before I do that. Bunnaman and Adam Mascherin have led the Rangers this year as draft eligible players on what was supposed to be a veteran driven group. He's a very strong, puck possession type of center who does a great job of working the boards, demonstrating patience and poise in the cycle. As such, he's a tiring force for opposing defences. His offensive game is really growing and I think he's a very solid pro prospect. Again though, still making up my mind about the type of role he'd have at the next level.

25. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
I don't think anyone expected the Bulldogs to be great this year, and to make matters worse, they've had some serious problems with injuries thus far. But the expectation was that former top 5 pick Brandon Saigeon would be one of the team's offensive leaders. That hasn't been the case (with a single point thus far). Saigeon is at his best when he's an aggressive player (think Scott Laughton/Mike Richards), but I haven't seen that same intensity level thus far from him. Way too early to give up on him making adjustments, but he's certainly in jeopardy of falling out of the Top 30.

26. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Extremely quick pivot who is excellent in transition because of his elite speed and hands. Darts in and out of traffic and has the potential to be a very dynamic offensive forward. He's clearly worked hard over the summer to add strength as he's doing a better job of fighting off checks when driving to the net. That said, there are some areas that need work still. When he's on, he's using his speed to engage without the puck, especially on the forecheck, but this is an inconsistent component to his game. And for as dangerous as he is off the rush, he's not yet a great player below the hash marks because he lacks the strength to consistently win board battles. Loads of potential though because of the skill level. Just needs to get bigger.

27. Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
The 2nd of our 6'6 defenders. An OHL rookie from Finland, the adjustment for Niemelainen hasn't been terrific thus far. Unlike teammate Keaton Middleton, he doesn't seem as confident or eager to use his size defensively. And while he is mobile, he's had some difficulty defending the rush thus far because he seems to be getting caught in between using his stick and trying to play the body (getting caught flat footed). Offensively, he seems to possess good vision and makes a good breakout pass, but he hasn't shown much desire in jumping up in the rush or utilizing his shot. Just how much upside is there? Let's say it's too early to make that designation. At this point, might not be much separating Niemelainen from Windsor's Logan Stanley as the 2nd best 6'6 defender available this year.

28. Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At this point, Kopacka vs. Katchouk might be a toss up. Right now, slight nod to Kopacka from me because I've been a little more impressed with his skating ability, and work without the puck. Kopacka shows a great shot too, which I've seen him utilize pretty effectively coming down the wing. As mentioned, I really like his compete level without the puck. Seems to be the type of guy who's able to create turnovers and provide a lot of energy (although he's not as physical a player as Katchouk). The Soo just keeps these guys coming.

29. Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hard nosed, North/South type of winger who excels in driving the net and working to win battles along the wall. Katchouk has also shown a pretty good hockey IQ thus far and has excelled playing in a scoring line role, opening up space for guys like Zach Senyshyn to operate. Katchouk has also shown himself to be a physical player who brings energy on the forecheck. Has already been suspended this year for starting a 2nd fight (at the time of another). Does remain to be seen how high  his offensive potential is though.

30. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Has already shown remarkable improvement thus far in his OHL career. Started the preseason and regular season pretty rough, but is getting better every game. Dineen is a very mobile, puck moving defender who has done a great job as the Battalion's primary offensive catalyst from the backend (with Kyle Wood out). He's also looked very comfortable on the power play, where he's quarterbacking the top unit. He's not huge (5'11), but I think this is a guy who continues to get better and eventually climbs up the draft board.

Honorable Mention:

31. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Has certainly been the better goaltender in the Soo thus far and despite not being huge, I like how he finds the puck in traffic (speaks to positioning). Just needs to find consistency. 2nd best goalie prospect behind Wells right now IMO.

32. Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
3rd 6'6 defender on the list. Stanley has been very solid for WIndsor thus far, pairing with Mikhail Sergachev on the team's top pairing. Slowly gaining confidence in his ability to carry the puck. On the rise IMO.

33. Luke Kirwan - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Just finishing up a suspension for cross checking. Still hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations (at one point was considered a top 10 pick for 2016). But I also still think it's too early to give up on him. Playing more physical this year at least.

34. Noah Carroll - Defence - Guelph Storm
Loved his game last year and compared him to Travis Dermott. But he's struggled this year with the increased responsibility on a rebuilding team. Too many errors with the puck in his own end thus far.

35. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
Saginaw, in general, has looked out of sorts this year. Cormier's erratic play been one of the reasons. I really like this young net minder, but he's got to find a way to get the job done. Way too many soft goals this year so far.

36. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
Was a little shaky early on, but seems to be finding his groove lately. Just not sure if I see an NHL quality net minder though. I also get the sense that London might use him to upgrade in net (cough, Alex Nedeljkovic, cough).

37. Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Former 1st rounder by the Wolves, Pezzetta is a power center who looks to use size and skill to keep possession in the offensive end. Key for him will be maintaining his physical game because the offensive contributions will likely be inconsistent.

38. Kyle Maksimovich - Forward - Erie Otters
Got off to a blazing start, filling in for Dylan Strome as Alex Debrincat and Taylor Raddysh's running mate. But since Strome has returned, his production hasn't been quite as consistent with Jake Marchment and Nick Betz.

39. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Plays much bigger than his size (5'11) and has looked good driving the net this year. Has definite goal scoring potential with a great release. Without elite size, probably not as enamouring to NHL scouts though.

40. Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Solid all around defender who will see his role increased due to the horrific Lemcke injury. Needs to be better with the puck in his own end, but has looked good on the power play.

41. Ben Gleason - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Great acquisition by the Bulldogs and he's played great for them thus far. Can really move the puck and has great mobility. Defensive game is inconsistent, but he should grow well in Hamilton.

42. Jordan Sambrook - Defence - Erie Otters
Has come out of relatively nowhere (played midget last year) to jump onto the Otters 2nd pairing. Good size and he's producing offensively. Could be a real diamond in the rough. Want to see more of him before I move him up significantly on my list.

43. Anthony Salinitri - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Doesn't have great size, but he has good wheels and a head for the game. Had a tremendous preseason but just hasn't been able to find that success in the regular season thus far. Hard working goal scorer who could still score 20+ goals this year.

44. Drake Rymsha - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Getting lots of ice time since the trade to Ottawa, but hasn't found much success yet (save for a 3 assist effort to close out the weekend). Needs to play with intensity to be successful, and I think he's gotten away from keeping his game simple and efficient.

45. Ryan Cranford - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Another OHL rookie who has been a revelation for his club. Really like Cranford's play in front of the net, showing little fear and great hands in close. Like Jordan Sambrook, I want to see more before I really bump him up.

46. Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Has worked very well for Mississauga in a checking line role. Does a lot of little things well and I've been impressed with his ability to come away with the puck in traffic. Again, just how much offensive upside is there though?

47. Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights
Missed the start of the season with an upper body injury, so he looks a little rusty. But I expect him to find success as part of London's 3rd/4th lines. A potential power forward.

48. Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Niagara has started slowly yet again, and the lack of offence that they've gotten from their 2nd and 3rd lines has been a major reason. Paquette is exceptionally skilled, but he's been invisible thus far and has struggled with turning the puck over.

49. Matthew Timms - Defence - Peterborough Petes
Has actually been one of Peterborough's best defenders thus far. Moving the puck well and providing steady play in his own end from the 3rd pairing. If he were bigger, I'd probably have him higher (up with Sambrook).

50. Troy Timpano/Stephen Dhillon/Jake Lawr - Goaltenders - Sudbury/Niagara/Erie
Cheating a bit by lumping all three guys together. Timpano is the most hyped of the three, but has been quite bad so far (and is now injured). Dhillon and Lawr are rookies who have shown well with limited playing time. Dhillon could really rise if Moran continues to struggle.