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 West Division Preview
THE TOP 3 CONTENDERS (IN ORDER OF PREDICTED FINISH)
Windsor is hosting the 2017 Memorial Cup, and like most hosts have begun the process of loading up. They already have a pair of top NHL picks in Mikhail Sergachev and Logan Brown in the lineup. The pair lead the defence and forwards respectively. Winger Christian Fischer had 96 points last year, and should also return. They added Julius Nattinen and Jeremiah Addison to bolster the forward group. Gabriel Vilardi is expected to be a top 10 pick.
Helping Sergachev on the blue line, is fellow first rounder Logan Stanley. There is plenty of experience and depth amongst the rest of the group. 17-year-old Michael DiPietro is expected to be the starting goalie. Knowing they are hosting the Memorial Cup, Windsor will also be willing to continue to address any weaknesses and really load up at the trade deadline.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Sault’s strength will be their forwards as they return nearly all the key attackers from last season. Blake Speers, Zachary Senyshyn, Jack Kopacka, Boris Katchouk, Tim Gettinger, and Bobby MacIntyre. Youngsters Liam Hawel and Morgan Frost also look to make impacts in their draft years. Gustav Bouramman and Colton White will return to lead the defence, with overager Medric Mercier bringing experience as well. Joseph Raaymakers will be given the first opportunity to fill Brandon Halverson‘s skates in net.
The outlook for Sarnia could change greatly if Pavel Zacha and Travis Konecny return from their training camps with the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers respectively. I think Konecny is more likely of the two to be in the OHL this year, but its possible both are NHLers. Jakub Chychrun will also be headed to Arizona Coyotes camp, but should be back to lead the defence. Nikita Korostelev, Anthony Salinitri and Jordan Kyrou will be big factors in the forward group, regardless of whether the top two centres return. Justin Fazio mans the crease.
Players to Watch
Will Bitten, Centre, Flint Firebirds*
Bitten is refusing to report to Flint and has demanded a trade. Given all the issues in Flint last year, its hard to blame him for feeling he needs to go to another team to further his career. He also wants to go to University in French, as he is fluent in both languages. In any event, we have included him in this list because he has a lot of value, and will be a player to watch, wherever he ends up in the OHL.
Bitten is a great skater, with good speed and acceleration. He also has excellent agility and edge work. Bitten has the ability to stop or change directions on a dime. When you combine those skating skills with soft hands and excellent stick handling, Bitten is difficult to contain off the rush. He can beat a defender wide and cut to the net, or if they back off to defend his speed, unleash a hard and accurate wrist shot. His release is really compact and quick. Bitten also has excellent vision and can be a playmaker, working the half-wall on the power play or opening passing lanes on the rush. Without the puck, Bitten gets to the high traffic areas and is not afraid to get his nose dirty. He is a non-stop worker who plays a gritty game, gets involved in board battles and scrums.
Alex Peters, Defence, Flint Firebirds
A 2014 third round pick of the Dallas Stars, Peters could be back as an overager. He is a very good skater for his size. His first step and his acceleration in both directions are very good, however an awkward stride can take away some of top his speed when going forwards for long distances. This makes him susceptible to quick forecheckers when the puck is dumped in his corner. However he doesn’t have the same issue going backwards and has very good agility and edge work, which he combines with a long active stick to be very difficult to beat one-on-one. Solid balance on his skates makes him very good in board battles. That said, there is room to pack on more muscle to his frame which will make him even better.
Peters is a staunch defender who blocks a ton of shots, and is extremely good at reading the play, anticipating, and being in the right position. Peters doesn’t seem to throw big checks that often, but he does use his size effectively to clear the crease and to win battles on the boards. There isn’t much, if any offense to speak of here.
Filip Hronek, Defence, Saginaw Spirit
Hronek is a puck moving defenceman with offensive skills. He sees the ice extremely well and has good instincts and passing. He can utilize these with a good first pass out of the zone or to quarterback the power play. Hronek has poise with with the puck on his stick, and the patience to wait for a shooting or passing lanes to open up. He can thread passes through small openings. He also has the stick handling ability to get away from forecheckers, and to maneuver with the puck through the neutral zone. Hronek has a decent slap shot, which he gets through traffic and on net. It could stand to be a little bit more powerful though. Hronek’s hockey IQ and offensive instincts are extremely good. Hronek is a solid skater with good speed in both directions, and excellent acceleration.
Markus Niemelainen, Defence, Saginaw Spirit
At 6’6″, Niemelainen has tremendous size. He uses it effectively. While he isn’t a huge hitter, he does play physical in battling for loose pucks and pinning his man to the boards; clearing the front of the net, and blocking shots. Niemelainen is very skinny though, and needs to add muscle onto his frame in order that he can be more effective at the physical aspect of the game past the junior level. He also uses a long and active stick to cut down passing lanes and poke check the puck from opponents. Niemelainen shows very good positioning and effective gap control in his own end. He is strong both five on five and on the penalty kill. The ability to start the rush, and make a good first pass is also something that helps him defensively as he gets the puck moving and out of the zone quickly.
Mitchell Stephens, Centre, Saginaw Spirit
Mitchell Stephens is among the fastest players in this draft class. He wins a ton of races whether they be short ones to loose pucks, or being first on the puck on a longer forecheck due to a great first step, tremendous acceleration and great top end speed. He can really fly out there, and this also makes him deadly off the rush.
Stephens has an excellent wrist shot and release, which he uses to great effect off the rush. He also has a very good one-timer, and works to get open to get it off. Stephens stickhandling is good and he can control the play both in the cycle game and making plays on the rush. Stephens is not afraid to crash the net, whether it be in trying to score on his own play in close, or looking for a screen, rebound or tip-in. He goes to the net extremely hard and has been known to take a goalie interference penalty or tow. His playmaking ability has improved over the last year.
Jakub Chychrun, Defence, Sarnia Sting
A superb skater, Chychrun has excellent speed and acceleration in both directions. He seems to float above the ice, and his stride looks effortless. Chychrun has outstanding edgework, and his pivots are crisp and clean. This allows Chychrun to cover a ton of ice. He can rush the puck and get back quickly defensively as well. He also possesses excellent agility. Chychrun can navigate traffic effectively both with and without the puck. He’s strong on his skates for his size, and uses good leverage and balance to win battles in corners and in front of the net. He should become even better in this aspect as he adds muscle to his frame.
Jakob Chychrun is already at 6’2″ and still growing, he also has the size teams will be looking for. Add in good vision, strong passing skills and a bomb for a slap shot and he has all the tools to be an offensive force. He has high-end hockey sense and seems to make the right play most times. Chychrun starts the breakout effectively, either with a strong first pass, or by avoiding forecheckers and skating the puck out of his own end. He has good stickhandling skills and can lead the rush. Chychrun is also strong on the power play walking the line effectively to open up passing and shooting lanes. Chychrun is also already developping a strong defensive game, playing shutdown defensive hockey and getting big minutes against top lines
Jordan Kyrou, Centre Sarnia Sting
Kyrou is an excellent playmaker. He has good vision and the ability to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open before feathering them a tape to tape pass. He reads the play well, and makes good decisions. Kyrou’s speed makes him extremely dangerous off the rush, however he also controls the puck well in the cycle game and works hard down low. His wrist shot has decent power, but could get better. It could also stand to have a bit of a quicker release. Kyrou must add some muscle and weight though. He needs to add additional upper-body strength in order to win more battles along the boards and establish position in front of the net. While he mostly spent time at centre, he also has the versatility to be effective on the wing. He also has good defensive ability
Travis Konecny, Centre, Sarnia Sting
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.
Boris Katchouk, Left Wing, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Katchouk plays a very simple but effective game. He is quick to get in on the forecheck and creates pressure on defenders going back to retrieve the puck. Katchouk is physical along the boards, looking to finish his checks on those defencemen. He has the willingness to battle in the corners and get himself in front of the net. Katchouk is strong on the cycle, using his body to effectively shield defenders away from the puck. He has a good wrist shot and decent release. He can also score on tip ins and deflections. Katchouk could use some work on his stickhandling. He is not likely to get around defenders or create space with a number of fancy moves, or to be overly creative in setting up an opponent. He does get assists by retrieving loose pucks and making the smart, simple play to an open teammate.
Blake Speers, Left Wing/Centre, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A third round pick of New Jersey in 2015, Speers is another player who can really skate. He has great top end speed and acceleration, along with a very quick first step. This helps him to win both short races for loose pucks, and to get in quickly on the forecheck. He can also vary his speed and attack defenders to the outside, or slow up to create passing lanes or get room to get a shot off on the rush. Speers adds outstanding agility and edge work making him very slippery and elusive to defenders. He can use this skating skill both off the rush and in the cycle game. Blake Speers has very good stick handling ability and a wide variety of moves that can help him get around a defender.
He protects the puck very well and can make a wide variety of moves with slick hands. Those hands help him to finish in close to the goal. Speers also has an accurate shot and a good release, though he could stand to use it more often. His passing skills are extremely good, as he has excellent vision and the ability to thread the puck through the tightest of openings. A little undersized, Speers will try to play a gritty game, but again this is where he needs more strength going forward. Speers has very good hockey sense. He makes smart plays with the puck and darts into open areas, looking for the give and go immediately after dishing it off.
Zachary Senyshyn, Right Wing, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
He is an absolutely elite skater, and might have been the fastest skater in the OHL last. He has a powerful stride that generates great speed, and the acceleration to reach that top speed in just a few steps. Senyshyn also has the strength and balance to fight through checks and drive to the front of the net. This allows Senyshyn to take defenders wide off the rush, and cut to the front of the net. He is deadly when he catches a defender flat footed in the neutral zone and will be behind them before they know it. The balance also allows Senyshyn to win battles along the boards and to establish position in front of the net.
Senyshyn plays a very straight forward power game. He goes to the net hard both with and without the puck. He plays gritty and digs in the corners and in the front of the net. Senyshyn has a lethal arsenal of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both extremely powerful and feature good releases. His stickhandling is decent, but he’s more likely to beat a defender with his speed than with his hands. Its an area of his game that certainly can get better. Senyshyn makes smart, simple passes of the puck in the cycle game, keeping possession, but is not one to make a creative pass through a small opening. He’s much more of a goal scorer than a playmaker. Defensively Senyshyn works extremely hard. He backchecks effectively and gets involved in battles in his own end.
Logan Brown, Centre, Windsor Spitfires
Big and strong, Logan Brown can be a dominant player below the hashmarks. He has a powerful stride, protects the puck and takes it to the front of the net. Brown has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, and also has a powerful shot from further out. He does not seem to use that shot enough though, preferring to play the role of playmaker. Brown uses his size and strength to protect the puck in the cycle game, extending plays and waiting for teammates to get open. His long reach is a real asset in protecting the puck and keeping possession.
Brown has the ability to put the puck on the tape, and make saucer passes to get it through traffic in order to set up teammates. He uses his size to be physical on the forecheck, as well as to win battles for pucks down low, and establish position in front of the net. When we talk about Brown’s physicality, he is not throwing huge highlight reel checks, but he is more than willing to get involved in battles and does not shy away from contact. The scary thing is that Brown can be even stronger, as there is still room to add more muscle to his frame. Brown must learn to be more consistent game-to-game.
Christian Fischer, Right Wing, Windsor Spitfires
A third round pick of the Coyotes in 2015, Fischer has very good size, and knows how to use it. He plays a power forward style, driving the net, getting in quickly on the forecheck, and battling for loose pucks along the boards. Fischer has the soft hands to finish in front of the net, but also has a powerful wrist shot and quick release. His one timer is also extremely powerful and effective. Fischer has good hockey sense and finds the openings in the defence to get his shot off.
When playing the cycle game, he protects the puck extremely well, using his body and positioning to shield the puck from defenders. Fischer has decent passing skills, but he isn’t one to often thread the needle through an extremely tight lane to set up a teammate. Instead he finds openings and makes the smart, safe play to keep possession and keep the cycle going in the offensive zone. He plays a straightforward north-south game, and don’t expect Fischer to show off a wide variety of dangles or make too many highlight reel type of plays, but he is effective when playing that power game. Fischer is a very good skater. He has a long and powerful stride. This generates good speed, but it is his quickness and acceleration that really put him on another level. He plays his gritty, physical game in all three zones.
Logan Stanley, Defence, Windsor Spitfires
Standing at 6’7″, Stanley is a giant on skates. He has a huge wingspan and long reach, giving him the ability to really cut down passing and shooting lanes, as well as to control attackers on the rush. Stanley is not afraid to block shots. His size is a real advantage on the penalty kill as he can be extremely disruptive to teams setting up in the zone. He also has a mean streak, as he loves to be physical in throwing big hits, fighting for loose pucks, or clearing the crease. He can sometimes take the physical play a little too far, which can cost him. Stanley has good hockey sense, as he reads the play well, and generally keeps himself in good defensive positions. Skating and his offensive game are a bit of a work in progress. They aren’t bad, but could really use some improvement.
Mikhail Sergachev, Defence, Windsor Spitfires
Last year’s OHL Defenceman of the year, Sergachev can do it all in both ends of the rink. He is good with the puck on his stick, showing stickhandling poise and great passing skill. Sergachev effectively starts the rush with good breakout passes, and can also break down the defence on the power play. He has high-end hockey IQ, and makes the smart play with the puck on his stick. Sergachev has a strong slap shot and an effective wrist shot, both of which he can use to score from the blue line. He keeps the puck low and gets it on net, even through heavy traffic, allowing his teammates to set-up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds. Sergachev’s offensive game is among the best of any defenceman in the OHL.
Sergachev is a very good skater. He has the speed and acceleration necessary to join the rush and create offence in transition, as well as recover defensively if he gets caught. His excellent agility allows him to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Sergachev shows good strength on the puck and wins battles along the boards, and in front of the net due to his strong balance and good lower body strength. He will need to get even stronger going forward though, if he is to play a similar style of game against men.
2017 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Kyle Keyser, Goalie, Flint Firebirds
An athletic goalie who missed time due to a knee injury last season. He gets post to post quickly and tracks the puck well. He makes a number of acrobatic saves. Keyser gets up and down in the butterfly extremely quickly. He suffered playing behind a bad team last year, and will likely see plenty of rubber again this year.
Brady Gilmour, Centre, Saginaw Spirit
As an OHL rookie, Gilmour put up 23 points last year. He has very good vision and passing skills. He might be undersized, but uses good stickhandling and agility to control the puck down low and protect it. Gilmour shows very good poise and patience. He waits for the play to develop and then hits a teammate with a quick pass.
Adam Ruzicka, Left Wing, Sarnia Sting
At 6’4″, Ruzicka has excellent size. He also has very good skating skills, and can drive the net with both speed and power. Once he gets there, he has the soft hands to finish in tight to the net. He also has the vision and passing skills to be a playmaker. Ruzicka must show his physical game on the smaller North American ice.
Gabriel Vilardi, Centre, Windsor Spitfires
The second overall pick in the 2015 OHL Draft, Vilardi has decent speed. He uses it to get in on the forecheck and cause problems for defenders. He uses his size to shield the puck and maintain possession in the cycle game, and uses his powerful stride to fight through checks and drive the net. Vilardi has a very long reach and excellent puck handling ability. He uses these assets to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open, before hitting them with a pass. Vilardi is constantly moving and getting involved in the play. He is extremely gritty and involved in battles along the boards, and in front of the net. The power forward prospect also has a very good wrist shot.
2018 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Ty Dellandrea, Centre, Flint Firebirds
Dellandrea was the Firebirds first round pick (5th overall) in the OHL draft. He scored 35 goals in 35 games for the Central Ontario Wolves last season. He is said to have good strength and power in his skating, a powerful and accurate shot, and the ability to control the puck off the cycle.
Main Photo: WINDSOR, ON – JANUARY 21: Forward Logan Brown #21 of the Windsor Spitfires celebrates after being awarded player of the game after a 5-3 win against the Flint Firebirds on January 21, 2016 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)