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 started across the CHL, and now that the new hockey season is upon us I will be given my thoughts on this coming season. I’ll be breaking it down league by league, and conference by conference. We started yesterday with the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference and today move on to the Eastern Conference, home of the highest ranked 2013 draft eligible player in the OHL, and to last year’s powerhouse Niagara Ice Dogs.
So lets get to it.
The Top Contenders
Belleville Bulls: For those that read the Western Conference preview, you saw that one of the reasons I picked the Kitchener Rangers to win East was that they had arguably the best goalie in the OHL. Well here we have the Belleville Bulls, my pick to take the OHL’s Eastern Conference, led largely by another goalie who is arguably the best in the league, Malcolm Subban. Its true that goaltending wins Championships, and Canada’s likely starter at this year’s World Junior Championships has plenty of OHL playoff experience, starting his first playoff games for Belleville when he was still just 16 years old. On defence the Bulls feature veterans in Brady Austin and Stephen Silas who will be relied upon to play against the best lines of the other teams. Meanwhile Jordan Subban is really coming into his own, and looks to put together a good season to be drafted as high as his brothers Malcolm and P.K. were in previous years. He’s turning into a great Power Play weapon, but will need to work on his defensive game, and it wouldn’t hurt his draft stock if he can grow an inch or two this year. Regardless though, he’ll be an OHL weapon. Up front Cameron Gaunce and Daniil Zharkov will lead the offence, and it is in good hands with those two stars. Look for Austen Brassard to also have a breakout year.
Barrie Colts In Mark Scheifele the Barrie Colts will have a contender for OHL MVP on the club. The only problem is that if the NHL lockout ends he might find himself in Winnipeg to finish the season, and for that reason I cant be 100% confident in picking the club to win the conference. I expect a breakout from newly acquired Andreas Athanasiou in Barrie, it was obvious that this kid has a ton of skill, but clashed with the Hunters in London, and that is never a situation a player like Athanasiou would want to be in. Anthony Camara and Zach Hall should also provide offence for the Colts. On defence Aaron Ekblad will be looking to improve in his sophomore season. After scoring 10 goals in his rookie season as a 15 year old with exceptional player status, Ekblad will look to improve those numbers and become a real offensive force in the OHL. Overager Ryan O’Connor will be given big responsibility and big minutes, and he should be more than capable of handling it. The Colts also have solid, if unspectacular goaltending, and should be more than good enough with their strong offensive team.
Niagara Ice Dogs: Last year was supposed to be the big year for the club, and it was as they were excellent all season long, only losing in the OHL final. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the club, but the NHL lockout may have changed that. Any time you can add Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Strome to your lineup, you should have a pretty good junior hockey club. These two will certainly be the leaders of the team and Niagara is a threat as long as they are part of the club. If the NHL gets back to work though this young club is likely still a playoff team, but not conference title contender. Brett Ritchie, Brock Beukeboom, Steve Shipley, and Jesse Graham will provide veteran leadership to the young club even if Hamilton and Strome leave. The goaltending is the big question mark as the team looks to replace Mark Visentin.
Players to Watch:
Mark Scheifele, Center, Barrie Colts: As mentionned Scheifele could be a contender for OHL MVP if he spends the entire season with Barrie. The Jets prospect had a good season last year, but never seemed to really have the great play that many expected. I think that this year he’ll really show his value and be one of the most dangerous players in the league. He’s an outstanding playmaker, and his very presence on the Colts will make every player who plays with him better. Expect his wingers to have big seasons.
Ryan Strome, Centre, Niagara Ice Dogs: Another high draft pick. Strome might not even be in the OHL if the NHL wasn’t locked out this year. Look for him to show off the great skating and slick hands that have made him a valued prospect in the Islanders system. He will look to round out his defensive game this year.
Dougie Hamilton, Defence, Niagara Ice Dogs: Hamiltton might have been the best defencemen in the OHL last season and will certainly contend for that honour again this season. The Bruins prospect will dominate games at the back end for Niagara, and don’t be surprised to see him play 35+ minutes a night in big games. He will play in all situations, whether it be matching against other teams top lines, leading the Niagara powerplay, or killing penalties. Expect to see Hamilton playing for the Bruins as soon as the NHL comes out of this lockout. Ice Dogs fans can only hope that happens later rather than sooner.
Cody Ceci, Defence, Ottawa 67s: The Senators first rounder leads a young 67s team. He’s got a huge point shot and is great on the PowerPlay. Ceci will look to have a big season and crack Canada’s World Junior lineup, something that isn’t easy as the team should be very deep on defence. Ceci will be another defencemen who will play huge minutes for his club.
2013 Draft Eligibles to Keep an Eye On:
Ryan Kujawinski, Centre, Kingston Frontenacs: I expect Kujawinski to be the guy that Kingston builds around going forward. At 6’2″ 200lbs he is developping into a big, powerful centre. He has excellent reach, and great puck control, and is able to extend plays. This allows him to be a playmaker as it gives his teammates time to get open and he’s able to make a few quick moves to open up passing lanes. He also is a powerful skater who drives the net and plays a gritty style. Kujawinski will need to work on his defensive game this season.
Sean Monahan, Centre, Ottawa 67s: Monahan already has 2 full seasons in the OHL under his belt, Monahan spent last season centring the first line for the Ottawa 67s. Already 6’2″, Monahan is developing into a power forward at the centre position. He uses his strong skating ability, powerful stride and good balance to drive the net in the offensive zone. Monahan’s shot and release are already at pro level, and he can use them to beat goalies with regularity. Monahan is also an excellent playmaker and his vision and passing skills helped linemate Tyler Toffoli lead the OHL in goals last year. Monahan is my 3rd ranked draft prospect (overall) heading into this season.
Spencer Martin, Goaltender, Mississauga Steelheads: Martin has already taken over as the Steelheads number one goaltender. He plays a solid butterfly style and has very quick legs taking away the bottom of the net very effectively. He has good size, and plays his angles well; challenging shooters effectively. Martin will be looking to improve his rebound control this season. If he can do that, he can move himself up NHL draft boards.
Jordan Subban, Defence, Belleville Bulls: Is a great skater, and is becoming a dangerous offensive weapon, with many of the same tools his brother P.K. showed while in Belleville. Jordan has an excellent slapshot, and is great at one-timers. He also has great vision, and is becoming the Bulls powerplay quarterback. Questions about his size will always plague him as he is listed at 5’10” but can sometimes look even smaller than that out there. However if he can add strength, and answer questions about his defensive ability this season he can move up draft boards very quickly. Jordan certainly has the type of prodigious talent we’ve seen in his two older brothers.
Other Rookies To Watch:
Michael Dal Colle, Centre, Oshawa Generals: I wasn’t really expecting much from Dal Colle this season. I figured he would make it on the Generals, but on a pretty decent club, I thought he’d struggle to get a lot of meaningful minutes. I had him more pegged as a guy to watch in 2013-14. However, the Generals first round pick in the OHL Draft, Dal Colle came in and had a great pre-season putting up 8 points, and making a case for top 6 minutes in Oshawa. It will be interesting to see what he can do now that the regular season is here.
Eric Cornel, Centre, Peterborough Petes:The Peterborough Native was the 3rd overall pick in the OHL Draft, the Petes will look to build around Cornel and return to the playoffs after two straight years missing them. Cornel is a big playmaking centre in the mold of Mark Schiefele. The Petes can only hope he’ll turn out as good as Schiefele has. Expect him to get top 6 minutes early in his career as Peterborough can use the offence.
Roland McKeown, Defence, Kingston Frontenacs: The 2nd overall pick in the OHL Draft, McKeown is a smooth skating, offensive defenceman. He played on the powerful Toronto Marlboros team that featured top pick Connor McDavid (Erie), 5th overall pick Joshua Ho-Sang (Windsor) and 9th overall Samuel Bennett (also taken by Kingston). McKeown was the blueline quarterback for the high powered club and will show critics that the big offensive numbers he put up in junior weren’t just because he played with those forwards.
As always feel free to leave your comments below and follow me on Twitter @LastWordBKerr