Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. It’s that time again, major junior hockey is back and we’re here to preview the new season for you. The QMJHL kicked off their new season on September 10th, while things are set to start on September 24th in the OHL and WHL. With that in mind we will start our division previews out east and work our way across the country this year.
In any event, you can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2015-16 OHL CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW
THE TOP 3 CONTENDERS (IN ORDER OF HOW I FEEL THEY WILL FINISH)
Niagara Ice Dogs: The Ice Dogs were expected to be good last year, but were awful to start the year. They had an excellent run in the second half and made the playoffs. This year they look to avoid that slow start and dominate from day one. Niagara is a a very deep team, with stud scorers in Brendan Perlini and Josh Ho-Sang supported by key secondary pieces like Graham Knott back, along with overagers Jordan Maletta, Anthony DiFruscia and Mikkel Aagaard; as well as youngsters Christopher Paquette and Ben Jones, this team will score a lot of goals. The defence is anchored by Vince Dunn and Blake Siebenaler who can both add offence, while Aaron Haydon and Ryan Mantha are both NHL draftees who add a defensive, physical presence at the backend. It is the strongest and deepest blueline in the OHL. Stars prospect Brent Moran is in goal. Overall this team is a definite contender for not just the division, but the league as well.
Barrie Colts: The Colts should provide good competition for Niagara. In Andrew Mangiapane, Brendan Lemieux, Justin Scott, and Julien Nattinen the Colts should have an offence that can go toe-to-toe with the Ice Dogs. This is helped by Rasmus Andersson who is one of the best offensive blueliners in the OHL, while Brandon Prophet, Michael Webster, and Chadd Bauman provide blue line depth. In goal the Colts have arguably the OHL’s best goalie in MacKenzie Blackwood.
Mississauga Steelheads: Make no mistake, the Central division is a two horse race. This Steelheads team is very young and its not quite their year yet, but they are very well positioned for the future. In Sean Day, Michael McCleod, Alex Nylander, and Nathian Bastian they have a ton of 2016 NHL Draft eligible talent, and in Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod also have 2017 talent. The offence should be decent and the defence young and improving. That said, the Steelheads have a big quesition mark in goal, with Spencer Martin likely to be playing pro hockey in the Avalanche’s system.
Players to Watch
Rasmus Andersson, Defence, Barrie Colts: A second round pick of the Calgary Flames, Andersson is a tremendous offensive talent who had 12 goals and 64 points last year. He is able to move the puck with a good first pass, and through skating it himself as he also has good stickhandling ability. His slapshot is hard and extremely accurate, and his wrist shot features a quick release. Andersson uses his agility, and ability to walk the line to open up shooting lanes, and has a remarkable ability to get his shot through traffic. Even with his good shot, the bread and butter of his game is his playmaking ability. He has very good stickhandling and poise at the line. He takes the time to let plays develop, and has the vision and passing ability to thread the needle and make great plays in the offensive zone.
MacKenzie Blackwood, Goaltender, Barrie Colts: A second round pick of the New Jersey Devils and already at 6’4″ tall, MacKenzie Blackwood has the ideal size that teams look for in goaltenders. He uses that size effectively and comes out to challenge shooters and take away the amount of net they have to look at. He skates extremely well and can back up quickly to close down the net on dekes. Blackwood is almost always square to the shooter, even on cross ice passes as he gets across very quickly due to a strong leg push. He stays in control and avoids oversliding. Blackwood plays a strong butterfly technique with strong legs that take away the bottom of the net, and an excellent glove hand. While he has very good rebound control for a goalie his age, it still continue to be improved still. He does a very good job of recovering quickly and getting square to the puck when he does give up a rebound though.
Brendan Lemieux, Centre/Left Wing, Barrie Colts: A 2014 second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Lemieux was traded to the Winnipeg Jets in the Evander Kane deal. Brendan is the son of former NHLer Claude Lemieux. Brendan Lemieux plays the same in your face, pest like, borderline dirty style that defined his father’s career, for better or worse. He is always involved along the boards, in front of the net or in any scrum that comes his way, and is a real pain to play against. Lemieux loves to chirp and can be a real agitator out there on the ice. He also has some real offensive talent, including a good shot and a quick release. Lemieux cycles the puck well down low. If given space he is willing to drive the net and can finish in tight. He does well in battles in front of the net and on the boards. If there is a criticism it is that he sometimes forces plays and doesn’t always wait for a great opportunity, trying a low percentage shot, or to force a pass through a lane that just isn’t open. He put up 41 goals last year, but had just 19 assists to go with it.
Andrew Mangiapane, Left Wing/Centre, Barrie Colts: Undrafted in 2013, Mangiapane had 104 points last year, and was a sixth round pick of the Calgary Flames as a draft re-entry. Despite his lack of size, Mangiapane forechecks hard and fights for loose pucks. He has exceptional agility and elusiveness, spinning away from defenders and creating openings to make a pass to a teammate. An excellent playmaker, Mangiapane can put the puck tape to tape through the tightest of openings. He also has the speed necessary to overcome his size, and plays a two-way game.
Vince Dunn, Defence, Niagara Ice Dogs: A second round pick of the St. Louis Blues, Vince Dunn is a very good puck-moving defenceman as he combines outstanding skating with the puckhandling skills to skate the puck out of dangerous areas, and led the rush. Dunn has the ability to stickhandle while still moving at top speed that is rare amongst defencemen, especially at his age. He also has very good vision and passing skills, making strong breakout passes, and quarterbacking the play on the powerplay. Dunn has a very good wrist shot, with a lightning quick release. His slapshot and one-timer are powerful and accurate. Dunn is everything you could want in an offensive defenceman. Dunn is willing to use his body to defensively, throwing hits and blocking shots. He could stand to work on his gap control, as he sometimes gives forwards too much room on the rush, when he has the skating ability to really close down and take away their time and space a lot better. Overall though, his biggest issues defensively come from taking too many risks in the offensive zone.
Josh Ho-Sang, Right Wing/Centre, Niagara Ice Dogs: A 2014 first round pick of the New York Islanders, Ho-Sang’s off-ice issues have been well-documented. On the ice, he’s immensely skilled. He is a lightning fast skater with incredible agility and edgework. Ho-Sang has a great first step and outstanding acceleration as well. This helps him to get to loose pucks and dart through openings in the offensive zone. He could stand to use this great speed more, taking defenders wide and cutting to the net more often would add another aspect to his game off the rush. Improved strength would help him to have better balance and be stronger on the puck. Ho-Sang also has quick, soft hands, and incredible puck control. When he’s on his game, he is a joy to watch as he can do things with the puck that other players only dream of. He quite literally can stickhandle in a phone-booth. Ho-Sang can play the role of playmaker with good vision and excellent passing skills. He has the ability to make a saucer pass over sticks, or to thread the needle through very small areas. Ho-Sang can score goals with his excellent moves and soft hands. He also has a good release on his wrist shot but could use more power. His one-timer could also be stronger. That may come as he bulks up, which is something that Ho-Sang will definitely need to do before going pro. He can make dynamic offensive plays when he has time and space, but in fighting traffic he still gets knocked off the puck a little bit too often, and this is another area where bulking up would help.
Graham Knott, Right Wing, Niagara Ice Dogs: A second round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, Knott has excellent size at 6’3″ and is a power forward. He loves to hit, and does so in all three zones. Knott gets in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into turnovers and finishing his checks. Knott drives to the net with the puck on his stick, whether that means going around an opponent or through them. He gets to the front of the net without the puck, and battles hard for loose pucks in the corners. Knott is a pure goal scorer with the soft hands to finish in tight, to make deflections, and to pounce on rebounds. He uses his body effectively to shield the puck and extend plays in the cycle game. Passing isn’t Knott’s biggest strength, and he does not try to make overly creative plays, but he does keep the play moving down low. If there is a criticism it is that Knott must learn to play with a more consistent energy level game to game.
Brendan Perlini, Left Wing, Niagara Ice Dogs: A 2014 first round pick of the Arizona Coyotes, He is a very good skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. He couples this with very good agility to be deadly off the rush. He is extremely hard to stop one-on-one. Add to that the good balance and power to be able to fight through checks and you have a lot of offensive potential here. In the offensive zone, Perlini possesses very good hockey sense, good creativity and excellent vision to be a dynamic playmaker with the puck on his stick. He has good stickhandling, and puck protection skills needed to extend plays and give his linemates time to get open. He is very good in the cycle game. Perlini has shown off a much improved shot and release this season, and this is the biggest change in his offensive game. He has a great wrist shot, and also has a very good one-timer. While Perlini has great height, he could stand to put on more muscle and play a more physical game going forward. Perlini is also good defensively.
Mike Amadio, Centre, North Bay Battalion: A 2014 third round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, Amadio played a very defensive role for the Battalion last year. He was used to check the other team’s top line, to take key faceoffs in the Battalion zone, and to play on the first penalty kill unit. Over the course of these tough minutes Amadio put up 24 goals and 71 points. He is very good skater, with strong acceleration, good top end speed, and excellent agility. Amadio also possesses a decent shot and release, and strong playmaking abilities off the cycle.
Kyle Wood, Defence, North Bay Battalion: A 2014 third round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, most saw Wood as a pure defensive defenceman in his draft year. He changed those perceptions last year though, as he had 16 goals and 40 points for the Battalion. Wood showed off an impressive slap shot, along with good poise, and excellent passing skill on the back end. His defensive game remains strong, with the 6’4″ defender being willing to throw big hits and to battle in front of the net and in the corners.
Kyle Capobianco, Defence, Sudbury Wolves: A third round pick of the Arizona Coyotes, Kyle Capobianco’s game is defined by his outstanding skating ability. He is so smooth its like he glides out there on the ice, often looking like he is floating just above the surface. Capobianco shows excellent speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards, great pivots, excellent lateral agility, and fantastic edgework. The great skating gives him outstanding mobility allows Capobianco to lead or join the rush offensively and and still be able to recover back to his position. He covers a ton of ice, and it is very difficult to beat Capobianco one-on-one because he is so good on his feet. Last season, Capobianco was the second leading scorer on the Wolves, a team that was a full 29 goals behind the next lowest scoring team in the OHL. It is clear that he has very high-end offensive ability, and his point total (40) may have been even higher if the forwards had the skill level to finish many of the opportunities he generated. Capobianco adds very good stickhandling to his skating skill allowing him to move the puck out of danger, and to lead the rush. He also has the instincts to know when to join as a trailer. Capobianco has an excellent wrist shot, with a good release. His slapshot is good, but not an absolute rocket either. He does have the ability to be a powerplay quarterback, being calm and poised with the puck at the blueline, using his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes, and by making smart passes through small openings.
2016 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Nathan Bastian, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads: A big and strong forward, Bastian isn’t one to initiate the contact often, but he certainly doesn’t shy away from it. He uses his excellent size to win battles for loose pucks in the corners, to protect the puck on the cycle and to establish position in front of the net. Bastian has a quick first step and very good acceleration, he gets in quickly on the forecheck and causes turnovers. Bastian is also very good positionally, and defensively mature for his age.
Sean Day, Defence, Mississauga Steelheads: Day has excellent size as he is already 6’2″. He also has great skating. His strides both forwards and backwards are long and smooth. His mobility is already top notch. He has great offensive instincts, the ability to rush the puck and to run the power play from the point, a hard shot, and great passing skill and vision. Day has some things to work on in his own end, but the talent and work ethic are there. He is not intimidated and willing to play a physical game against opponents who are older and who have more muscle on their frame at this point in their development. Quite simply, Day has all the tools a scout looks for in a defenceman, and has the potential to be elite. So why does he fall outside the top 10? Though all the tools are there, Day doesn’t put them together on a game in, game out basis. He really needs to work on being consistent and avoid some of the mental mistakes that have plagued him over his first two years in the OHL. He might be the player on this list with the biggest range of both upside or downside. I could see him at the top of the draft if he puts his skills together, and I could see him falling outside of the first round if that doesn’t happen. It’s a huge year for the player who came into the OHL as an “exceptional player” to years ago.
Michael McLeod, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads: The fifth overall pick in the 2014 OHL draft, McLeod had 29 points for the Steelheads last season. He is an absolute speedster, with great top end speed, and outstanding acceleration. On top of that he has excellent agility, and the ability to change directions quickly. He uses his skating ability to its full advantage to elude defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes. McLeod is equally adept at being a playmaker or a goals scorer as he has a great shot with a quick release, as well as strong passing skills and good vision. He plays a good two-way game.
Alexander Nylander, Right Wing, Mississsauga Steelheads: The son of Michael Nylander and brother of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander, Alexander is another highly skilled member of the family. He has tremendous speed and great acceleration. Add into that excellent agility and the ability to change directions extremely quickly, as well as top notch stickhandling ability and he can be a nightmare for defencemen. He has the ability to handle the puck as well as make precise passes while moving at top speed. His wrist shot features a quick release, but he must add some upper body strength in order to add more power. He also has to work on being more conscientious on the back check and not cheat to create offensive chances.
Christopher Paquette, Centre, Niagara Ice Dogs: Paquette didn’t see a huge amount of ice time as an OHL rookie, but that should change this year as he has more experience and a bigger role. Playing on the Ice Dogs bottom six last year, he played a very straight line, physical game, being aggressive on the forecheck and getting pucks to the net in the offensive zone. He didn’t try anything too flashy. We will have to see if he is given some freedom to expand the role this year.
Dmitry Sokolov, Centre, Sudbury Wolves: Sokolov showed off his skill at the Under 17s where he scored six goals in six games and led the Russian team to the gold medal. As an underager he also played for Russia at the Under 18s. He is a big power forward type, who uses his size to protect the puck well and drive the net. His wrist shot has an extremely quick release, and his powerful arms and forearms put it on net quickly. He is very good in front of the net, with the quick hands and good hand-eye co-ordination to get tip-ins and rebounds in front of the net. Sokolov also has good lateral agility and can make slick moves to open up passing lanes, and create space. He needs to work on his overall skating though, his stride is choppy which takes away from his overall top end speed and acceleration.
2017 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Ryan McLeod, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads: Taken third overall in the 2015 OHL Draft by the Flint Firebirds, McLeod was part of a big off-season deal that sees him joing his brother in Mississauga. Like his brother, he is a fantastic skater with excellent vision and passing skills. The McLeod brothers will be a dynamic duo to watch in Mississauga.
Owen Tippett, Right Wing, Mississauga Steelheads: The fourth overall pick in the 2015 OHL Draft, Tippett is another exceptional skater with puck skills. Over the next couple of years speed will be the name of the game for the Trout with players like Day, the two Mcleod brothers, and Tippett. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and causes turnovers, but also has the stickhandling to create offence off the rush. Tippett has very soft hands and the ability to finish plays in tight to the goal.
David Levin, Right Wing/Centre, Sudbury Wolves: The first overall pick in the 2015 OHL Draft, Levin made history as an Israeli born and raised hockey player who only came to Canada at the age of twelve. A pure goal scorer he has an excellent wrist shot and release. He is an outstanding puckhandler, with soft hands and plenty of nifty moves in his arsenal. Levin is a strong skater who has excellent balance and a low centre of gravity. He has the power to fight through checks, and uses this to protect the puck down low on the cycle. He is also very intelligent with top notch hockey senes.
Ho-Sang Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Blackwood Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images