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 CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW
THE TOP 3 CONTENDERS (IN ORDER OF PREDICTED FINISH)
The Steelheads had a very young team last year, and will benefit from the valuable experienced gained. Devils draftee Michael McLeod will lead the forward group, play in all situations and against top competition. He will have Nathan Bastian by his side again. His brother Ryan McLeod will also take on a bigger role. 2017 Draft Eligibile Owen Tippett could be a top ten pick. Its doubtful they will get Alexander Nylander back as it appears he will go to the NHL or AHL, but even without him, the Steelheads offense is stacked.
On defence they will ask Sean Day to take a step forward and add consistency. 2017 eligible defenceman Nicolas Hague could join Tippett at the top of the draft. Austin Osmanski and Stefan Leblanc can play big minutes. Newly acquired defender Vili Saarijarvi adds to the core, but will miss the first few months of the season. The team also added Los Angeles Kings draftee Jacob Moverare in the import draft. In goal they will feature Matthew Mancina.
North Bay Battalion
North Bay has lost a lot from last year’s team, and while they are not expected to challenge Mississauga for the division crown, could still compete to be the next best team in the division. The team’s biggest strength is an excellent defence. It is lead by Cam Dineen, a Coyotes draftee. Centre Brett McKenzie leads the forward group. The veteran scored 26 goals and was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks. Veteran Riley Bruce adds experience, while Brady Lyle is looking to be taken in the NHL draft.
The Wolves have been a very poor team the last couple of years, but the rebuild should start to pay dividends this year. Israeli-born David Levin was the team’s first overall pick in 2015, and is looking for a breakout year ahead of the 2018 NHL draft. Dmitry Sokolov is also back. The Wolves have brought in some depth to surround them with and improve the team. On defence, they selected Owen Lalonde second overall in this year’s OHL draft. He will learn from veteran Kyle Capobianco who leads the Wolves blue line. Zack Bowman should be the starting goalie.
Players To Watch
Nathan Bastian, Left Wing, Mississauga Steelheads
At 6’4″ tall, 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 is able to use his size, leaning on his opponents and taking full advantage of his superior size and strength at the junior level. Once he gets the puck he has good vision and a high hockey IQ to be a play maker for his linemates.
Bastian also has the soft hands to execute deflections and bang in rebounds close to the net. Once he establishes position in front of the net, he is very hard to move out of from that area. He also has a heavy wrist shot, with a quick release that can fool goaltenders. Bastian’s strength is an asset at the junior level, but he still looks skinny. He will need to add muscle before he is effective playing this style at the pro level.
Michael McLeod, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads
McLeod 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. McLeod uses his skating ability to its full advantage to elude defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes when working off the rush, or even when playing the cycle game.McLeod shows strong passing skills and excellent vision. He makes strong, tape-to-tape passes both off the rush and in the cycle game.
McLeod has a good release on his wrist shot, however it lacks power. He needs to use his shot more often though, as he can sometimes get caught up looking for the pass instead of taking good shooting opportunities. Added to a non-stop motor to go along with his strong skating, McLeod also shows the willingness and ability to get in quickly on the forecheck. He pressures defenders and creates turnovers and mistakes, which then create offence for himself and his linemates. He gets into the dirty areas, whether that be battling for pucks in the corner, or establishing position in front of the net. It can be improved with a little bit more muscle being packed on to his frame. Last year, he developed such a strong two-way game that the Steelheads match him against the other teams top lines, and use him to kill penalties.
Graham Knott, Left Wing, Niagara Ice Dogs
A second round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, 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.
Cam Dineen, Defence, North Bay Battalion
Dineen thinks a game at a very high level. He handles the puck with great poise, and sees openings in the defence to thread a pass to a teammate. Dineen quarterbacks things from the point on the power play, showing the ability to walk the line and to create passing and shooting lanes. He makes smart plays with the puck. In addition to being an excellent playmaker, Dineen has an absolute rocket of a shot, which he keeps low, and gets it on net providing opportunities for tip-ins and rebounds. Dineen also has good stickhandling ability, which he uses to avoid forecheckers, and to skate the puck out of his own end. He can also make a good first pass to start the transition game, including being able to make a home-run pass to a streaking forward.
Brett McKenzie, Centre, North Bay Battalion
McKenzie is a power center who gets in quickly on the forecheck with his good speed and strong skating stride. When he gets there he finishes his hits and causes turnovers. He also uses his good size to protect the puck down low on the cycle and establish position in front of the net. If he can add some muscle to that frame he can be even more effective. McKenzie has a decent shot and a good release which he uses often. His vision and pssing skills are decent, but he’s very much a shoot first player.
Kyle Capobianco, Defence, Sudbury Wolves
A third round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, 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 edge work. 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.
It is clear that he has very high-end offensive ability, and his point totals may be higher as Sudury’s forwards are stronger this year. 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 slap shot is good, but not an absolute rocket either. He does have the ability to be a power play quarterback, being calm and poised with the puck at the blue line, using his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes, and by making smart passes through small openings.
Dmitry Sokolov, Right Wing, Sudbury Wolves
Dmitry Sokolov 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. Sokolov also has good lateral agility and can make slick moves to open up passing lanes, and create space. He is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, but when he does see an opening, his passing skills are good, and Sokolov would likely have had more assists playing on a team with a few more finishers around him.
Sokolov is willing to play a physical game, throwing hits in the corners, battling for position in front of the net, and fighting for loose pucks. He needs to work on having a consistent effort on a game in and game out basis. Sokolov needs to work on his overall skating though, as his stride is choppy which takes away from his overall top-end speed and acceleration.
Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Tom Hedberg, Defence, Barrie Colts
Hedberg joins Barrie, coming over in the import draft from Leksands. He is an offensive defender, with very good skating and passing skills. He also has a very good shot. Hedberg will be given the opportunity to quarterback the Barrie power play, taking over from fellow Swede Rasmus Andersson.
Nicolas Hague, Defence, Mississauga Steelheads
Already measuring 6’6″ tall, Hague is a giant on the blue line. His skating is surprisingly quick, and his stride long and fluid. He plays a strong two-way game and covers a lot of ground for a big man. Hague scored 14 goals last season, showing off a powerful slap shot on the power play. He is able to move laterally and walk the line to open up shooting lanes to get his shot through. Hague could stand to improve his passing skills this season though. He makes a decent breakout pass from his own end, but needs to be a bit more patient with the puck at the oppositions blue. The big man also shows good defensive instincts for a player his age.
Owen Tippett, Right Wing, Mississauga Steelheads
Tippet announced himself to the world at last year’s World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, where he put up five goals and eight points in six games to lead Canada White to the gold medal. Tippett is extremely dangerous off the rush. He has excellent speed and acceleration. His ability to change speeds allows him to take defenders wide and drive to the front of the net, where he has the soft hands to finish in tight. If defenders back off to respect his speed, he can use his excellent wrist shot or snap shot and beat goalies with a quick release. Tippett could stand to work on his play making skills. He can stand to slow things down and hold on to the puck just a little longer before rushing a play. Tippett had 15 goals and 20 points for Mississauga last season.
Hayden Davis, Defence, Niagara Ice Dogs
Davis has very good skating ability. He has excellent speed and acceleration in both directions, as well as good edge work and pivots. Davis can cover a lot of ice, and this should help him to play a two-way game going forward. He didn’t get a lot of ice time last season. That should improve on a rebuilding Niagara team this season. Davis must get better at handling the puck and making his first pass, and avoid turnovers this year.
Ben Jones, Centre, Niagara Ice Dogs
Jones was mainly used in a bottom six role last season, and showed the ability to work a physical, grinding game. He worked well in the corners and at the defensive end of the ice. He also showed flashes of good stickhandling ability, and strong passing skills. Jones is another player who will get more ice time and bigger responsibility with the Ice Dogs this year, and could take real steps forward.
Brady Lyle, Defence, North Bay Battalion
Lyle has good vision and passing skills. He uses these to start the transition game, as well as to play the role of quarterback on the power play. Lyle uses good agility to walk the line and to open up passing and shooting lanes. He finds open teammates and can make a tape-to-tape pass to set up scoring chances. Lyle also has a good shot, which he keeps low to allow for rebounds and tip-ins. He must get physically stronger in order to play a better defensive game.
Daniil Vertiy, Centre, North Bay Battalion
Vertiy might not be the biggest player, but that does not stop him from playing a gritty style. He causes havoc on the forecheck, and in battling for position in front of the net. He has the soft hands to bury rebounds and get tip in opportunities. Vertiy will also be seeing more ice time this season. He will get the opportunity to show if he can add a skill game to that gritty side. He’s shown flashes so far.
2018 Draft Eligible
Kirill Nizhnikov, Right Wing, Barrie Colts
Recently moved from Mississauga to the Barrie Colts, in exchange for a boatload of future draft picks; Nizhnikov has been called an extremely creative player, with excellent puck handling ability and a good shot. The 7th Overall pick in the OHL draft, his defensive game has been questioned.
Ryan McLeod, Centre/Left Wing, Mississauga Steelheads
Like his brother, Ryan McLeod is an excellent skater. He also has very good vision and passing skills. Ryan might have even more offensive potential than his brother. He has a better shot and a bit better stickhandling, but needs to develop his offensive instincts.
Owen Lalonde, Defence, Sudbury Wolves
The 2nd overall pick in this year’s OHL draft. Lalonde is said to be an all around defenceman with excellent skating skill. He uses that skill in the transition game as well as defending his own zone. He will be brought along relatively slowly, but could have a big impact late in the season.
David Levin, 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 sense.