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 EAST DIVISION PREVIEW
THE TOP 3 CONTENDERS (IN ORDER OF HOW I FEEL THEY WILL FINISH)
Ottawa 67s: Travis Konecny is a dynamic offensive force who will once again lead the 67s forward group centring the first line. Dante Salituro could be the first line centre on many other OHL teams, but will lead the second unit. Jeremiah Addison, Nathan Todd, Sam Studnicka, Trent Mallette and Connor Graham give the 67s plenty of options to provide scoring punch on the wings. The defence is led by Los Angeles Kings draft pick Jacob Middleton, who gets better every year. Overagers Evan de Haan and Nevin Guy give the blueline plenty of experience. Liam Herbst and Leo Lazarev give the 67s an excellent one-two punch in goal. It appears that years of rebuilding are all set to pay off with a contending team in Ottawa this season.
Kingston Frontenacs: The Frontenacs are likely to lose Sam Bennett to the NHL’s Calgary Flames. It will be up to Florida Panthers pick Lawson Crouse to take over as the face of the franchise, and take another step forward in his production. He should be supported by Los Angeles Kings prospect Spencer Watson. Overager Conor McGlynn returns to provide secondary scoring. On defence the team will be led by 2014 second round pick Roland McKeown. Overager Chad Duchesne, and 19 year olds Nathan Billitier and Shawn Tessier provide the blue line with plenty of experience. 2014 OHL Goaltender of the Year Lucas Peressini should be back between the pipes and will give the Frontenacs more solid play at the back.
Oshawa Generals: The defending Memorial Cup Champions will still take a step back without Cole Cassels, Hunter Smith, Mike McCarron, and Tobias Lindberg. Thats a lot of offence to lose, and its unclear if Michael Dal Colle will be back or with the Islanders. Matt Mistele is in Los Angeles Kings camp and they could sign him and send him to the AHL/ECHL. I’m not quite sure how the Generals will score enough goals to really compete without those two. Anthony Cirelli should take a step forward and become the top line centre for the team but where else will the goals come from? A defence led by Mitchell Vande Sompel, Stephen Desrocher, and overager Jacob Graves should be good. Ken Appleby could be back as an overager to provide the team a steady goaltender, if he’s not the starting role will fall to Jeremy Brodeur. This team could go either way, if Dal Colle, Appleby and Mistele are all playing pro, they could trade players like Cirelli and Vande Sompel and go full rebuild. If they are all back, they are a threat in the division. Things in Oshawa are really up in the air as NHL camps continue.
Players to Watch
Lawson Crouse, Left Wing, Kingston Frontenacs: Taken in the first round of the NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, Crouse is coming off a season that saw him help Canada to gold medals at the 2015 World Junior Championships and 2014 Ivan Hlinka Tournament. At 6’4″ and 212 pounds Crouse is a budding power forward. He has a powerful skating stride, but could work on his first step and acceleration. That good power allows him to fight through checks and get to the net. He loves to get in the forecheck, and finishes his hits along the boards. He is very good in protecting the puck in the cycle and in winning battles along the boards. Crouse has the soft hands to finish in close and can tip in shots, or bang in goals from the front of the net. He also has a good wrist shot with a decent release. He could stand to shoot more though. Crouse can make the smart pass in the cycle game to an open man along the boards to keep the play going, but he isnt much of a playmaker. He can use some work on making touch passes to set up teammates, and on vision and creativity. Crouse is also an excellent penalty killer, and has excellent defensive instincts.
Roland McKeown, Defence, Kingston Frontenacs: A second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, McKeown was traded to the Hurricanes in the Andrej Sekera deal. McKeown’s skating ability is at an elite level and features excellent speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards, great pivots, excellent lateral agility, and fantastic edge work. He is so smooth on his skates, its like he’s floating above the ice. The outstanding mobility allows McKeown to always be in position defensively, and to join the play offensively and still be able to recover. He covers a ton of ice, and it is very difficult to beat McKeown one-on-one because he is so good on his feet. Offensively, McKeown shows confidence and poise with the puck. His offensive game is keyed by smart decision making and excellent passing skills. His slap shot could be harder, but is still very good. What really makes it an effective weapon is that McKeown finds the openings to get it through to the net, and keeps it low and on target. He does look more like a power play quarterback type who runs the play with his smart offense than the big bomber from the point though. His agility and edge work allow him to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. Defensively, McKeown’s mobility keeps him in position to make plays, and a good active stick helps him to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He is a smart defenceman who anticipates the play well. McKeown works hard in the corners, and is willing to battle in front of the net, but he could add more muscle to his frame, and play a more physical game though.
Spencer Watson, Centre, Kingston Frontenacs: A sixth round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Watson is a pure sniper who has a fantastic wrist shot, and outstanding release. He also has a very good one-timer. Watson has a high hockey IQ, he sees the play developing, and is able to slip into openings in the defence in order to get open for a shot. At just 5’10” Watson is a little undersized but he is willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals and has the soft hands to bury rebounds and tip-ins close to the net. Watson’s playmaking game is underrated at this point because he’s such a great sniper, but the passing skills and vision are also there to be a very dangerous player both off the rush and in the zone. He’s willing to dig in corners, but he really needs to add more weight to his frame to be better at it. He needs to be a little more patient with the puck on his stick, he always seems to take the first option, whether it be a shot on goal, or a quick pass.
Anthony Cirelli, Centre, Oshawa Generals: A third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cirelli was the Memorial Cup hero with two goals, including the overtime winner, in the final game. However, his value to that team went far beyond just one game. Cirelli was an important two-way centre for the Generals all season long. He skates extremely well, and has a non-stop motor that sees him involved in both the offensive and defensive zone. Cirelli has good vision and makes smart plays to teammates, getting them the puck in good areas to create scoring chances. He needs to add more muscle to his frame to play that style at the pro level.
Michael Dal Colle, Left Wing, Oshawa Generals: Will he or won’t he? Thats the big question with Michael Dal Colle who is trying to make the New York Islanders this fall. If he returns to the Generals he is easily the best player in this division, and one of the best players in the league overall. However that talent is also the reason the former fifth overall pick might never see the ice in General Motors Place again. The first thing you notice about Dal Colle is his stick handling ability. His soft hands are absolutely elite and he can do things with the puck that others only dream of. Dal Colle has shown an excellent ability to play the cycle game protecting the puck down low, and making quick, smart passes. When given openings he cane drive the net and show off those soft hands in close, and they give him the ability to beat defenders and goaltenders one-on-one. He’s also a power winger who is strong on his skates and also isn’t afraid to bulldoze through a defender if necessary. Willing to take a hit to make a play, he’s also unafraid to dish them out. Dal Colle can only improve as he adds more strength. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot with a very good release. He is also a very good skater. He has a good stride which provides him with very good top end speed and excellent acceleration.
Mitchell Vande Somple, Defence, Oshawa Generals: A third round pick of the New York Islanders, Vande Sompel is an excellent skater. He has outstanding speed in both directions, excellent acceleration, strong edge-work and good agility. He can slip by defenders when he rushes the puck up the ice, get back quickly when he is deep in the offensive zone, as well as keep forwards in front of him and force them to the outside when defending against the rush. Vande Sompel also has very balance and is strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck. While he is undersized, his balance helps him in board battles and in front of the net. While he could add even more muscle and get better at this, and his size is always going to be a problem against bigger forwards, his balance helps him to still do a decent job in this area. Vande Sompel is a good passer, with excellent vision. He has good hockey IQ and makes smart plays with his breakout pass, and on the powerplay. He is also a very good stick handler who can lead the rush, skate the puck out of danger in the defensive zone, or can play with poise on the blue line and be a real quarterback on the power play. His agility allows him to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Vande Sompel has a good slap shot and wrist shot with an excellent release. He understands the importance of keeping his shot low, making sure he gets it through to the net, and generating tip-in and rebound opportunities for the Generals forwards.
Travis Konecny, Centre, Ottawa 67s: The Philadelphia Flyers made a draft day move and get a second first round pick to take Travis Konecny when he was still on the board. Konecny has excellent speed, and tremendous acceleration. He utilizes it both on the rush, and to be a cannonball on the forecheck. He has good balance and is strong on his skates. This helps him to grind in the corners, work in the cycle game, or fight through checks to get to the front of the net. Konecny has strong agility and combines that with his great stickhandling to elude defenders and create plays. His speed must be respected as he can take a defender wide and cut to the net. This gives him the ability to slow up quickly and create shooting or passing lanes. Add to this great vision and passing ability and Konecny is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He also has a strong wrist shot and a good release. The good stickhandling and soft hands also come in handy for Konecny when he gets close to the net, as he can beat goalies in close, or can tip in shots, or pounce quickly on rebounds. He has the versatility to play centre, right wing, and even play the point on the powerplay at times. Travis Konecny might be undersized, but he plays a physical, gritty game. He is also more than willing to use that physical game in his own end of the rink, coming back hard on the backcheck, applying back pressure and disrupting plays, and battling down low. He played important matchups and penalty killing minutes for the 67s last season.
Jacob Middleton, Defence, Ottawa 67s: Another late round pick of the Kings in 2014, Middleton has evolved into a go-to defender for the 67s, playing huge minutes last season. Middleton has the ideal size that NHL teams are looking for.He makes full use of that size as he plays the game tough, throwing big hits, playing mean, clearing the front of the net, and being aggressive in the corners. His positioning is good in his own zone, and a long stick helps Middleton to cut down on passing and shooting lanes. Middleton shows great mobility for his size. He is a decent skater, with decent speed in both directions and solid acceleration. Offensively, Middleton shows good vision and a strong passing game. He doesn’t lead the rush often, but he can skate the puck out of danger in his zone, and then make a good first pass to start the transition. In the offensive zone, he is also adept at setting up teammates. His point shot lacks some power for a 6’4″ defender, and could also use more accuracy and this is what really holds him back from being a big time point producer from the point.
Eric Cornel, Centre, Peterborough Petes: A second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2014 Draft, Cornel has the versatility to play both Centre and Right Wing. He is a great skater with very good top end speed, and above average acceleration. As he has gained weight and gotten stronger he has improved his balance and is stronger on the puck and better in board battles, however he could stand to add even more core strength in the coming years. His edgework and agility are also very good, and this gives him a leg up in sneaking by defenders off the rush. Cornel has very long reach and excellent puck handling skills helping him to protect the puck . He has very good vision and excellent passing skill, making him an outstanding playmaker off the rush or in the cycle. For this reason many believe he will eventually become a full-time centre. One issue though is that Cornel often tries to rush every play, when he learns to slow the play down and take advantage of his reach, puck handling and passing skills by extending plays, he could be a deadly offensive force. His wrist shot is strong, accurate, and features a very good release, giving him the ability to both score as well as set up plays. He also has a good one-timer, as well as the soft hands to score in tight. While Cornel works well in the cycle game, and isn’t afraid to get to the front of the net and battle along the boards, he could stand to initiate physical contact more and throw his weight around on the forecheck as well.
Matthew Spencer, Defence, Peterborough Petes: Another Lightning draft pick, Spencer has good size at 6’2″ and excellent skating skills. He has great speed and excellent acceleration in both directions. He can lead the rush, or join as a trailer, and still be able to cover up defensively on many plays. His explosive acceleration allows Spencer to beat defenders wide when he is carrying the puck. Spencer has excellent pivots and edgework, and he has the type of quick first step that allows him to explode forward and throw big hits if a forward tries to beat him to the outside. He makes a very good first pass out of the zone. He also has the ability to make strong passes in the offensive zone. Add in a hard wrist shot with a good release, along with a very good slap shot, and one-timer and he has the offensive tools to put up points. He does have good stickhandling off the rush, but could stand to use some more poise in the offensive zone, and wait for a play to open up. He also could stand to get better at using his strong skating and agility to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes in the zone. Right now Spencer is a good offensive defenceman, but he has the tools necessary to be even better if he can just make some refinements in his game.
2016 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Brandon Saigeon, Centre, Hamilton Bulldogs: After scoring 26 points for the Belleville Bulls last year, Saigeon (along with the rest of the team) moves to Hamilton this year. Its a homecoming for the former Hamilton Jr. Bulldog who hopes to have an even bigger impact in his draft year. Saigeon shows the size and strength to be a potential power forward. He has a hard shot and a good release. He also is a smart player who finds openings in the offensive zone to get that shot off. Saigeon can be a playmaker as he has the skill to protect the puck and extend plays with his stickhandling, and the vision and passing skills to set up teammates. Now its a matter of putting it all together.
Travis Barron, Left Wing, Ottawa 67s: The third overall pick in the 2014 OHL Draft, Barron had 12 goals and 21 points last year. He plays an agressive, high energy game. He is quick on the forecheck and lays absolutely punishing hits on opposing defenders. He also have a very good wrist shot, and a quick release. He has the size and physicality to move up draft boards quickly if he can find some more offense this season.
Jonathan Ang, Centre, Peterborough Petes: The 9th overall pick in the 2014 OHL Draft, Ang put up 10 goals and 20 points for the Petes last year. He was also part of the Canadian team that won the Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer. Ang is an outstanding skater, with great speed and excellent acceleration. He combines that speed with silky smooth hands to be an absolute nightmare off the rush. He needs to get stronger in order to create some extra offense off the cycle, and if he can do that, he can be a high pick in June.
Dylan Wells, Goaltender, Peterborough Petes: Wells is a big goaltender who takes advantage of his size by playing at the top of his crease and cutting down angles. He gives shooters very little to shoot at, and showed good rebound control for a 16-year-old last year. He has quick legs, and good butterfly technique to take away the bottom of the net. He also gets side to side and tracks the puck well.
2017 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
Matthew Strome, Centre, Hamilton Bulldogs: The youngest of the Strome brothers, Matthew was the Bulldogs first round pick, 8th overall in the 2015 OHL Draft. He shows the size and skill that have become trademarks of the Strome name and will be the marquee attraction for the new Hamilton team. He scored the OHL Cup winning goal for the Toronto Marlboros AAA team last year. Like Dylan Strome, Matthew has outstanding hockey IQ, but could spend some time working on his skating going forward.
Zach Gallant, Centre, Peterborough Petes: Gallant was the 5th overall pick in the OHL draft. He is a big forward who plays a physical game and could become an excellent power forward as he adds muscle to his frame. He controls the puck down low, using his size to protect the puck and create plays for teammates off of the cycle, or take it to the front of the net himself.