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 MID-WEST DIVISION PREVIEW
THE TOP 3 CONTENDERS (IN ORDER OF PREDICTED FINISH)
The Memorial Cup Champions have a lot of question marks. Christian Dvorak is gone. His linemates Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are likely to join him, meaning they will lose all three members of junior hockey’s best line. They also will have to wait and see if Olli Juolevi returns from Vancouver Canucks camp. Getting any of these players back would make them a powerhouse, but even without them, they look to be favorites in the division.
Tyler Parsons is back in the Knights net, and should give them one of the best goalies in the division. On defence, Victor Mete, Chris Martenet, and Nicolas Mattinen are all NHL drafted, and should give the team a strong core even if they are without Juolevi. Up front, Max Jones, JJ Piccinich, and Cliff Pu should all be back. They also added Finnish star Janne Kuokkanen in the CHL Import Draft.
The Rangers should challenge the Knights for the top spot. They also have a strong lineup, with Florida Panthers second rounder Adam Mascherin leading the way. Connor Bunnaman, and Darby Llewellyn provide support. Greg Meireles will be asked to take a permanent role on the team and provide offense as well. Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Connor Hall and 2017 draft eligible Elijah Roberts will help anchor the defence. Frank Hora and Dylan DiPerna should be back as overagers. Dawson Carty should start in goal.
The Otters take big off-season losses for the second year in a row. Sure it is possible that they will get Dylan Strome back for one more season, but it is highly unlikely. Instead the job of leading the offence will go to Alex DeBrincat and Taylor Raddysh. That isn’t a bad thing. They are two talented players who will be leaders for the team. The defence also loses Travis Dermott. On defence, the Otters will have to wait for NHL training camp to end, but should have Eric Cernak back from Los Angeles Kings camp. He will join Darren Raddysh in leading the blue line. Troy Timpano and Jake Lawr compete for time in the crease.
Players to Watch
Erik Cernak, Defence, Erie Otters
Cernak has excellent size, and uses it to play a stout defensive game. He clears the front of the net, and uses his size to impose his will in the corners. Cernak is already pretty strong, and he still has room to fill out his frame and add some more muscle. Cernak also uses a long, and active stick to poke check the puck away from opponents, and to cut down on shooting and passing lanes. He has never put up big points, but he may have some untapped offensive potential. He has a hard slap shot, which he keeps low and on net. Cernak also makes a decent first pass out of the zone, and can make some plays in the offensive zone. However, Cernak is more likely to make the safe play than to take chances trying to create offense.
Alex DeBrincat, Right Wing, Erie Otters
DeBrincat is a pure sniper with an excellent wrist shot and release as well as a decent playmaker with good vision and passing skills. He is also a pest out on the ice, not afraid to throw hits, go to the net, fight in the corners, or get in the middle of scrums despite his lack of size. DeBrincat has a non-stop motor, always working to create opportunities. He can score goals in a number of different ways. DeBrincat also has the speed and stickhandling ability to beat defenders one-on-one and create offence off the rush. He hangs out in the slot, battling for position and is ready to provide traffic and distraction in front of goaltenders, and to tip in pucks, or pounce on loose rebounds. DeBrincat has good hockey IQ and makes smart plays both with and without the puck.
Taylor Raddysh, Right Wing/Left Wing, Erie Otters
Raddysh has good size and speed. He is a real goal scoring threat. He has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. With his strong hockey IQ, Raddysh is able to find openings in the defence to set up for a one-timer. He goes hard to the net and pounces on rebounds. Raddysh protects the puck well down low on the cycle, using his body and his stick handling to keep the puck away from the opponent. He has excellent vision and has really improved his play making this season, making tape-to-tape passes to teammates and threading the needle through tight spaces to create scoring opportunities. Raddysh uses his size, strength and balance to win loose pucks on the boards, and create increased offensive opportunities for his linemates.
Givani Smith, Right Wing, Guelph Storm
Smith is developing into a very effective power forward. He just loves to hit, and does so in all three zones. Smith gets in quickly on the forecheck and absolutely punishes opposing defencemen. Smith finishes his checks and takes away time and space creating turnovers. He can also win battles on the boards, and establish position in front of the net. He loves to work the cycle game down low, using his size and strength to protect the puck.
If Smith gets an opportunity, he loves to take the puck to the front of the net, whether he has to go around an opposing defender, or right through him to do so. He has the soft hands to finish in tight as well as a good wrist shot and quick release to score from further out. He is quick enough to pounce on rebounds or get tip ins. Smith isn’t the most creative player, but he does show good passing skills around the net.
Connor Hall, Defence, Kitchener Rangers
Rangers defenceman Connor Hall is another stay-at-home type. He put up nine puts in 39 regular season games. He broke his jaw early in the year, and missed several weeks. His lack of offence doesn’t impress scouts, but a very strong defensive game does get their attention. He makes a good first pass out of the zone, but lacks the patience and stickhandling to make plays in the offensive zone. Hall is not likely to join the rush very often, preferring to be a true stay-at-home defender.
Hall is willing to use his size and strength in his own end. He throws big hits and clears the front of the net. He is especially effective in winning battles along the boards. Hall uses his size and leverage to get pucks and then starts the transition game. Hall is also very good position-ally. He keeps himself between his man and the net, and uses a long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes.
Adam Mascherin, Kitchener Rangers
Mascherin is a pure sniper. His shot is very heavy, but it is his release that really fools goaltenders and leads to the puck finding the back of the net. Its tough to describe, and you really have to watch him, but Mascherin has a very unique release that surprises the opposition. His shot is deadly accurate, and he is able to pick corners or find the tiniest of openings. Mascherin also has the ability to score goals in tight, with the hand-eye co-ordination to get tip-ins, or pounce on rebounds. He is also an excellent play maker, with good vision and the ability to make a pass through the smallest of openings.
Mascherin is undersized in terms of height, coming in at just 5’10” tall, but at 205 pounds, he has a thick and powerful body. This helps him to protect the puck in the cycle game and to win battles along the boards or establish position in front of the opponents net. He is not afraid to play a gritty game and get involved in the real tough areas of the ice.
Janne Kuokkanen, Centre/Left Wing, London Knights
Janne Kuokkanen is smart and efficient playmaker. He has very good stick handling ability, able to protect the puck and make quick moves in tight spaces. His vision and passing skill is excellent. He slows the play down and finds openings that most other players do not see, and is able to put a pass through a tight opening, or make a saucer pass that lands on a teammates tape. Kuokkanen has very good anticipation and hockey sense as he seems to see openings before they are there. His shot could stand to be harder, but is very accurate and he possesses a very quick release. Kuokkanen seems to defer to passing though and could stand to use his shot more often.
Max Jones, Left Wing, London Knights
Max Jones can be a pure sniper. He has an elite shot with a tremendously quick release. A big winger who plays a power forward’s game, Jones gets in quickly and throws hits on the forecheck. He is more than willing to mix things up in battles for pucks in the corners and in front of the net. Jones protects the puck extremely well, working the cycle game to create opportunities for his linemates to get open in scoring areas. He uses his body well to shield the puck, and long reach to keep it away from opponents.
Jones can sometimes be too much of a shoot-first player though, getting tunnel vision and not being enough of a passer. He has a tremendous motor and will continue his intense pursuit of the puck in all three zones, never taking a shift off. Jones is a very good skater for his size. He has a very good first step, and a strong stride that gives him good speed and acceleration.
Victor Mete, Defence, London Knights
Mete is an outstanding skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. He has quick feet, with excellent pivots allowing him to transition from offense to defense, and with very good agility. He can make quick cuts and maneuver away from forecheckers in his own end, or through the neutral zone.
Mete has outstanding puck handling skills. Combine these with his skating and he is excellent at carrying the puck out of his own zone and leading the rush. He also makes a great first pass, allowing him to start the transition game. Mete has excellent vision and sets up things with his end to end rushes, and can play the role of quarterback on the powerplay. Mete shows excellent hockey IQ though, as he sees plays developing and makes his passes at the right time to maximize the offensive opportunity. He could stand to add some more power to his shot, and to use both his wrist and slap shots more often. He can be a bit predictable, which can make him a little bit easier to defend.
Michael McNiven, Goaltender, Owen Sound Attack
Undrafted in 2015, McNiven signed with Montreal Canadiens during 2015 training camp. He has great size, and takes full advantage of it by coming out of his net and cutting down angles effectively. McNiven gets up and down in the butterfly quickly, to take away the bottom of the net. He also has a very good glove hand. He could stand to work on his rebound control, an issue for many young goalies. With Owen Sound rebuilding, and some contenders looking to solidify their goaltending, he’s a trade target.
2017 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Vanya Lodnia, Right Wing, Erie Otters
Lodnia is coming off a strong Ivan Hlinka Tournament where he had three goals in four games. His game is based around his great speed. He is extremely dangerous off the rush, with the ability to beat a defender wide and cut to the net, or to change directions on a dime and beat them to the inside. He is a very good stickhandler, and has the vision to play the role of playmaker as well.
Isaac Ratcliffe, Left Wing, Guelph Storm
Ratcliffe combines great size (6’4″), with excellent skating ability. He can drive to the net and creates havoc when he gets there. He protects the puck well, and has good stickhandling ability. Moving into his draft season, he needs to develop consistency and show more of an ability to use his size to play a more physical game.
Elijah Roberts, Defence, Kitchener Rangers
An undersized defenceman with great skating and offensive skills, Roberts also had a strong Hlinka tournament. He is solid in transition, moving the puck with his own good stickhandling or making a strong first pass. Roberts can also play the point on the powerplay. Look for him to get bigger minutes for the Rangers this year, and put up a lot of points.
Jonah Gadjovich, Left Wing, Owen Sound Attack
A big winger who is strong in the corners, digging out loose pucks, and controlling the puck in the cycle game. He also is willing to drive the net, and shows some ability to finish when he gets there. Gadjovich is a very good complimentary player on an offensive line, but there is some question if he has the skill to drive his own offence.
Markus Phillips, Defence, Owen Sound Attack
The Captain of Canada’s Ivan Hlinka Team, Phillips plays solid in his own end of the ice, with very good positioning, a willingness to block shots, and to play physical in front of the net and in the corners. He has good passing ability, and will get the opportunity to play a more offensive role in his second OHL season.
Nick Suzuki, Centre, Owen Sound Attack
An excellent skater, Suzuki gets in very quickly on the forecheck, throwing hits or pressuring defenders into turnovers. Once he gets the puck, he uses his speed and agility to create space and open up passing lanes. He has excellent vision and was a very good playmaker at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. He looks to take the next step in the OHL this year.
2018 Draft Eligible Prospects
Ryan Merkeley, Defence, Guelph Storm
The first overall pick in the OHL draft, Merkeley is an excellent skater who drives the offense from the blue line. He avoids forecheckers and transitions the puck through the neutral zone. He also has good passing skills which he can use to start the rush, or to run things in the offensive zone. Merkeley is a piece the Storm will build around.