Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from the Prospect Beat since completing a review of the prospects of all thirty NHL teams. If you missed those you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. You can also find my extensive NHL Draft preview here.
This past weekend, hockey resumed from its summer hiatus across the CHL, and now that the new hockey season is upon us I will be giving my thoughts on this coming season. I’ll be breaking it down league by league, and one conference at a time. We will kick things off in the Ontario Hockey League with the OHL’s Western Conference, home of the defending OHL Champion, and also home to the highest-drafted NHLer who returns to the OHL.
So let’s get to it.
OHL Title Contenders
Kitchener Rangers: The Rangers are my pick to win the Western Conference. In fact, I predict Kitchener to win the entire league this year, as the team celebrates its 50th Anniversary season. All great teams start with great goaltending, and the Rangers are back-stopped by Ducks prospect John Gibson, arguably the best goalie in the OHL. As we move from the net out, we see Ryan Murphy on the backend, another one of the top producers in the league. Upfront, we see that in Tobias Rieder, Radek Faksa, and Matt Puempel the Rangers have assembled one of the most dangerous lines in the league. The team has a good mix of veteran depth in players like Mattia Marcantuoni, Dominic Alberga, Nick Czinder, and Evan McEneny. They also have quality youth in 2013 draft eligibles Justin Bailey, Josh Sterk, and Brent Pederson. Overall, this might be the most well-rounded club in the league, but they will face some competition as there is no true clear-cut favorite this year.
Plymouth Whalers: In Tom Wilson, Richard Rakell, JT Miller, and Stefan Noesen, the Whalers have four NHL first round picks leading their offence. The team returns almost their entire forward core from last season, and they should once again score a lot of goals. The defence has been strengthened by the additions of Connor Carrick and Gianluca Curcuruto. Plymouth is also able to avoid the war that will be the Mid-West division this season, which may help the team become better prepared for a long playoff run.
London Knights: Last year’s OHL Champions have taken some big losses as Austin Watson, Greg McKegg, Vlad Namestnikov, Jarred Tinordi, and OHL MVP Michael Houser have all graduated and Andreas Athanasiou was traded. However they still field a powerful lineup. The Knights Offence should still be pretty good, and we can expect the team to be led by Seth Griffith, Ryan Rupert, Matt Rupert, and 2013 NHL Draft Eligibles Max Domi and Bo Horvat. However the strength of this team remains its defence. New Captain Scott Harrington is a premier shut down defencemen, while Penguins Prospect Olli Maatta continues to develop his all around game. The Knights have also added import Nikita Zadorov, a hard-hitting Russian defencemen who is looking to be a 2013 first round pick. The big question, and the reason I give Kitchener the edge over the Knights is in-goal. In my opinion, London has not adequately replaced 2011-12 OHL MVP Michael Houser. However as we have seen in previous years, the Hunters are not afraid to trade assets for missing pieces at the trade deadline, and they could do the same this year.
Players to Watch
Alex Galchenyuk, Centre, Sarnia Sting: With Nail Yakupov off to the KHL, 3rd Overall pick Galchenyuk is the highest NHL drafted prospect in the OHL this season. The Habs pick hopes to return from a devastating knee injury that cost him all but 2 games last season. Galchenyuk had an excellent pre-season and appears to be close to being in full form. While he doesn’t have the surrounding cast in Sarnia to be able to make the Sting more than a middle of the pack team, expect to see Galchenyuk challenge for 100 points this season, and contend for OHL MVP. The only thing that may keep him from challenging for the scoring title as well is the time he will miss with his expected participation as a member of the United States Team in the World Junior Championships.
Jarrod Maidens, Right Wing, Owen Sound Attack: Maidens appeared to be a budding power forward before he suffered a very serious concussion last season. He still isn’t ready to return to the Attack lineup as of the writing of this article. As a big fan of Maidens, I’d love to see him come back and pick up where he left off. Without the injury he probably would have been drafted in the first round last year. This situation will be interesting to monitor, and if Maidens comes back strong, he might be the missing piece that gives Owen Sound the extra offence to turn the Mid-West division into a three team race with London and Kitchener, though even then, they are probably the third best team in the division.
Nick Ebert, Defence, Windsor Spitfires: Entering last season most experts had Nick Ebert as one of the top draft eligible players in the OHL. After a disasterous year, he ended up being “Mr. Irrelevant” as the 211th and last player drafted in the NHL draft. Can Ebert bounce back to his 2010-11 form, playing the type of two-way game that had scouts salivating over him? If he can even come close to being the prospect he was once projected to be, the Los Angeles Kings will have themselves a steal.
Ryan Sproul, Defence, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: The Detroit Red Wings second round pick in 2010, Sproul has one of the hardest shots in the league. Expect to see him quarterbacking what could be a dangerous Sault’s powerplay, and scoring goals at the back-end, while working on rounding out his all-around game before hitting the next level.
Oscar Dansk, Goaltender, Erie Otters: This Columbus Blue Jackets second round pick comes in looking to be the saviour for the OHL’s worst club last season. He should provide the team with solid goaltending, and steal them some games. The question will be, is it enough to get the Otters into a playoff spot? On his own it won’t be. Luckily the Otters will have a healthy Adam Pelech to help, along with a new OHL wunderkind leading their offence. Expect a better season in Erie, and they will fight to be in the top 8.
2013 Draft Eligibles To Watch:
Max Domi, Centre, London Knights: The son of former NHL tough guy Tie Domi is an elite skater who uses his “shiftiness” and changes of pace to confuse and beat defenders. He has excellent hockey sense and is able to find openings in the offensive zone to unleash a quick and accurate wrist shot. He is extremely dangerous with the puck on his stick as he can beat defenders one on one or use his excellent vision and passing ability to create an opening for his teammates. He will need to work on improving his defensive game this season, but he has the drive to succeed.
Bo Horvat, Centre, London Knights: A strong two-way player with great hockey sense, and a strong work ethic. Horvat wins a lot of board battles, and is a powerforward who loves to take the puck to the front of the net. His hockey sense seems to always have him in the right position at both ends of the ice. A good character guy, Horvat sets a good example for other young players on the Knights and is a favorite of the Hunters.
Kerby Rychel, Left Wing, Windsor Spitfires: The son of Warren Rychel is a pure goal scorer, scoring 41 goals last season. He has an excellent wrist shot with a very quick release. Rychel also has a very good one timer. Rychel’s biggest asset though is his good hands. He is deadly in close to the net, tipping in shot, burying rebounds, and driving opposing goalies nuts. Rychel loves to set up right at the top of the opponents crease and scores a ton from this area. He has really improved his skating over the past year which is one of the biggest reasons for him rocketing up draft boards. He also has shown the ability to play the game tough, and drop the gloves from time to time, like his father.
Jordan Maletta, Centre/Right Wing, Windsor Spitfires: Maletta hasn’t gotten as much hype as some of the other players on this list, but I feel he is ready for a breakout this year. Another big, powerful powerforward type Maletta is full of untapped potential. He protects the puck very well, and drives the net hard. He’s got accurate wrist and snap shots, and I like his release. If he can see some playing time with a playmaking centre, I think Maletta can show off his offensive potential and score some goals for the Spits.
Stephen Harper, Left Wing, Erie Otters: Harper has excellent size and skating ability. He is extremely solid on his skates and very difficult to knock off the puck. He controls the puck well down low, and is great at working the cycle game. He also shows good passing ability. A goal scorer with a quick one timer, it looks like Harper has found a spot at LW on the Otters top line and if he develops chemistry with McDavid could score a ton of goals. He led the team in-goal scoring last season, very impressive for a 16-year-old.
Jason Dickinson, Centre, Guelph Storm: Dickinson is a creative playmaker for the Guelph Storm. His excellent vision and passing ability help him to make linemates better. Dickinson is also and excellent stickhandler, and he protects the puck very well, extending plays and waiting for openings to make a pass. Dickinson will look to work on his defensive game, and faceoff skills to become more well-rounded and move up draft boards this season.
Darnell Nurse, Defence, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: Nurse is a big, strong defensive defenceman for the Greyhounds. The nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Nurse is an excellent skater who covers a ton of ice. He is a good shot blocker and his long reach helps to cut down passing lanes. NHL teams will be watching to see how his offense develops this season, even if it doesn’t his defensive skills alone might still make him a first round pick.
Nikita Zadorov, Defence, London Knights: I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t seen a lot of Zadorov yet, but am certainly intrigued to see him play based on others reports. The Russian Import is said to be a strong defensive defenceman with a nasty streak. He’s advertised as a big hitter and strong shot blocker in the mold of Anton Volchenkov.
Other Rookies to Watch (Draft Eligible 2014 and 2015):
Joshua Ho-Sang, Windsor Spitfires: The 5th overall pick in the spring OHL draft, Ho-Sang is an excellent skater and has fantastic hands. He really is slick with the puck on his stick He also has an excellent wrist shot and release. It will be interesting to see how Ho Sang is used in the Windsor lineup, but they have the offence to compliment him and he could challenge for rookie of the year.
Connor McDavid, Erie Otters:Just 15 years old, McDavid was granted exceptional player status and is the third player to enter the OHL early under this rule. (Aaron Ekblad and John Tavares were 2nd and 1st respectively). The young McDavid is a slick playmaking centre who looks to show that he deserves the label. Going to Erie, he’s immediately stepping into a top line role and will get big minutes this season. He’s shown some Chemistry with Harper, and I think they will click. I think he will beat his former midget level teammate Ho-Sang and take the OHL’s Rookie Award.