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. All three leagues are kicking off this week. With that in mind we will start our division previews today and make our way around the country.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2016-17 OHL EAST DIVISION PREVIEW
THE TOP 3 CONTENDERS (IN ORDER OF PREDICTED FINISH)
After winning the Memorial Cup in 2015, last year was a bit of a rebuilding year for the Generals. They reloaded quickly, and have a talented team again this season. Anthony Cirelli, who scored the championship winner at that Memorial Cup, is now a 19-year-old prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He will lead the offence. 2017 Draft eligible Jason Studnicka is there in a supporting role. On defence Mitchell vande Sompel and Riley Stillman move the puck well and put up points.Jeremy Brodeur, who had a tremendous year last year, returns as the overage starting goalie. One thing the Generals have is plenty of depth in the lineup.
The Bulldogs chased a playoff spot right down to the wire last year, but ultimately came up short. It was a building year for the franchise, as it was the first year in Hamilton, and many of the best players of the Belleville Bulls had graduated. They seem ready for more in 2016-17. Cole Candella and Ben Gleason lead a strong and mobile defence corps. Upfront the Bulldogs are looking for a breakout season from 2017 Draft eligible forward Matthew Strome. He could challenge to be a top 10 pick. MacKenzie Entwistle is also a solid 2017 eligible prospect. Trent Fox and Matt Luff, who scored 28 and 27 goals respectively last year, also return. Connor Hicks is back between the pipes.
The Petes strength is on the blue line where they will be lead by Tampa Bay second round pick Matt Spencer. He is joined by Kyle Jenkins, Brandon Prophet Matt Timms, Nick Grima, and Cole Fraser on what is an experienced and talented group. Up front a lot of offence was lost to graduation, and so Florida Panthers draftee Jonathan Ang will be asked to step up his game. Oilers draftee Dylan Wells mans the crease.
Players To Watch
Cole Candella, Defence, Hamilton Bulldogs
Candella was limited to just 37 games last season due to a wrist injury. When he did play, he was the Bulldogs top defenceman, playing big minutes and in all situations. Candella scored four goals and 20 points for Hamilton, while also being tasked with playing against the opponents number one line. He is a good skater, with strong edge work and pivots. He has great mobility in both directions, that really helps him be a two-way player. Candella has good stickhandling ability, and can skate the puck away from fore checkers and out of danger. He is also a very good passer, both in starting the transition game and acting as a power play quarterback. Defensively, Candella has good positioning and awareness in the defensive zone. He was drafted by Vancouver.
Ben Gleason, Defence, Hamilton Bulldogs
Gleason has excellent mobility, which allows him to play a very effective two-way game. He has very good edge work, agility and pivots; allowing him to cover a ton of ice. Gleason’s defensive game improved as the season went on. He got better at winning battles along the boards, and in front of the net. Gleason also became more willing to throw big hits. He is another prospect whose game will improve with added muscle.
Gleason also improved offensively, as he showed big improvements in his passing game. He became much better at starting the transition game as his first pass greatly improved. He can be prone to turnovers at times, but this was dramatically reduced as the season went on. Gleason took over the role of powerplay quarterback after Cole Candella was injured. He was not drafted last year, but could get some looks as a draft re-entry this year.
Anthony Cirelli, Centre, Oshawa Generals
A third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015, Cirelli was the Memorial Cup hero with two goals, including the overtime winner, in the final game. However, his value to that team goes far beyond just one game. Cirelli continues to be an important two-way centre for the Generals, playing big minutes and in all situations last year. 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.
Riley Stillman, Defence, Oshawa Generals
The son of former NHLer Cory Stillman, Riley Stillman is an extremely mobile defenceman, powered by his strong skating technique. He is a good passer, who can get the transition game started with a good first pass, as well as quarter back things from the point. Stillman has the vision to find openings, and the skill to feather the puck through tight spaces. Stillman also has a decent slap shot, and a heavy writer shot with an accurate release. He gets his shot on net, and through heavy traffic. His offensive game really improved after vande Sompel went down with an injury. He was selected by the Florida Panthers in the NHL Draft.
Mitchell vande Sompel, 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 good 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 Barron, Left Wing, Ottawa 67s
A seventh round pick of the Colorado Avalance, Barron will take on a much bigger role for the 67s this year. He plays an agressive, high energy game. Barron 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 had 13 goals and 37 points in 60 games last year.
Jacob Middleton, Defence, Ottawa 67s
A 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.
Jonathan Ang, Centre Peterborough Petes
Ang has blazing speed, as he is one of the fastest skaters in the OHL. He also has outstanding acceleration, and very good edge work. He can be extremely dangerous off the rush, but he does not always take advantage of his speed. Instead of going wide on defenders and driving to the front of the net; he is often content to pull up and try to set up a teammate. Ang has a good shot and release, but does not use it enough. He possesses real skills, and could score more goals, but is often a little bit too unselfish in the offensive zone. Ang is also good defensively, as his coaches already trust him to kill penalties and play in important defensive situations.
Matt 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 edge work, 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.
Lawson Crouse, Right Wing, Kingston Frontenacs
Taken in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, Crouse was recently traded to the Arizona Coyotes. He will head to Arizona’s training camp trying to make the squad, but its expected he will return to Kingston. 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, and improved his playmaking last year. He can still 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.
2017 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Jacob Paquette, Defence, Kingston Frontenacs
As a 16-year-old Paquette played bigger than expected minutes for the Frontenacs last year, and performed very well. He’s a strong defensive defenceman with a good physical game and excellent positioning. Paquette shows mobility with good speed in both directions and excellent edge work and pivots. He has shown some offensive ability with a good first pass, and a hard shot he keeps low and on net.
Jason Robertson, Left Wing, Kingston Frontenacs
Robertson put up 18 goals and 32 points in 54 games last year, and was a huge surprise for a 16-year-old rookie taken in the fourth round of the OHL draft. At 6’2″ the left wing has excellent size. He started off very strong with 15 goals by December, but cooled off in the second half. Kingston made trade deadline additions, such as Michael Dal Colle which took away some of his ice time and power play time. Now with Kingston in a bit of a rebuilding phase, he should again get plenty of offensive opportunities. Robertson has excellent spped. He also has soft hands and can score goals on rebounds and tips in close to the net. He tops it all off with a very good wrist shot.
MacKenzie Entwhistle, Centre, Hamilton Bulldogs
Entwhistle is a solid skater who plays a north-south style of game. He is willing to get dirty in the corners and in front of the net, as well as play a grinding game on the cycle. Entwhistle gets to the front of the net where he can bang in rebounds, or quickly one-time passes. He also grabs loose pucks and keeps the offense going by moving them quickly to teammates. Add in a good defensive game, and he could really move up the draft, if he adds a little bit of offense.
Matthew Strome, Left Wing, 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 put 38 points in 61 games last year. Like Dylan Strome, Matthew has outstanding hockey IQ, but could spend some time working on his skating going forward. He has very good vision and excellent passing skills, including the ability to thread the puck through tight areas. Strome also has a very good wrist shot and release. He could stand to shoot more this season though. Spent his time on the wing last season, but could be moved this year.
One thing that really stands out about Strome in comparison to his brothers, is the fact he plays as much more of a power forward. He gets in on the fore check and plays the body. He is very physical in the corners and battles in front of the net. He also is willing to take the puck to the front of the net.
Jack Studnicka, Centre, Oshawa Generals
A little bit skinny right now, Studnicka can really improve his game by adding muscle. He is a talented playmaker with very good stickhandling ability. Studnicka protects the puck extremely well and uses a good variety of moves, along with solid agility to make quick moves and change angles to open up passing and shooting lanes. He has very good vision as well. He has a good release on his shot, but could add power.
(Alexander) Sasha Chemelevski, Centre, Ottawa 67s
An incredible skater, Chemelevski has outstanding speed, excellent acceleration, and the ability to change directions on a dime. He reads the play extremely well and makes very good decisions with and without the puck. His stickhandling is very good, with the ability to control the puck and make fancy moves while moving at top speed. Chemelevski was limited to just five games after being traded to 67s last year (the Travis Konecny trade), but was impressive with limited ice-time in Sarnia prior to the deal. He will show his stuff this year and rise up draft boards. Chemelevski was incredible at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, scoring nine points in four games for the American team.
Austen Keating, Centre, Ottawa 67s
Keating had 13 goals and 32 points in 50 games with 67s last year. Keating has a good arsenal of shots with a quick release on his wrist and snap shots, and a hard, accurate slap shot. He also has very good vision, and makes smart plays with the puck on his stick. He has the soft hands and good stickhandling ability as well.
Zach Gallant, Centre, Peterborough Petes
Gallant was the 5th overall pick in the 2015 OHL draft. He had a rough season, struggling to find ice time and make an impact though. He needs to improve this seaon. Gallant can be a big forward who plays a physical game and could become an excellent power forward as he adds muscle to his frame. Gallant’s game should be based on controlling 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.