May 05 2014 11:15AM
Our first installment of the NHL Draft Scout Series focusing on the WHL was something of a success, so it was imperative we kept the momentum going and fired up a new one as fast as we could.
Fortunately, Todd Cordell, of TheHockeyGuys, was kind enough to virtually sit down with us on short notice and discuss 2014 draft eligible's coming out of the Ontario Hockey League.
Christian: The OHL always offers a solid crop of players, usually the best, for the draft, what do you think the strength of this class is as a whole?
Todd: I think it's a pretty good crop. Obviously near the top you have a lot of guys with star potential led by Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Michael Dal Colle. There's a nice group that follows with Nick Ritchie, Brendan Perlini, etc. and I like the variety of players as a whole. Whether you're looking for a power forward, a two-way center, offensive defenseman or anything else, I think this class has several quality players to offer that fit the billing.
C: Ekblad has jostled for position atop the overall rankings all year, what can you tell us about him? Is he really as good as people say?
T: I've scouted Ekblad live well over 100 times since he entered the OHL, and he is the real deal. He has the size to be physically dominant when he wants to, he skates well for a big man, and has a bomb of a shot. There's a couple areas of his game that could use some work, notably his pivots in the defensive zone, and his outlet passing - he misses moving targets at times - but I don't see anything that leads me to believe he can't be a very good player at the NHL level. His hands are surprisingly good, he's confident with the puck, and can skate it out of trouble when necessary. Ekblad logs big minutes in all situations, and if he learns to use his big frame a little more - he's not soft, but not as physical at he could be - he should be elite.
C: Do you buy into the theory that Ekblad is as good as he is at the moment due to him peaking (both physically and hockey-wise) now, and has little room to grow from here?
T: I think being so physically mature at a young age definitely helped him, but he earned all the credit he gets. He's a good player, but there's lots of room for improvement - that's not a knock - and if he continues to work at it, he should be able to live up to the hype. One thing I stress for fans is patience. He'll likely make the jump straight to the NHL, but defensemen usually take 200+ games in the NHL before you start to see their full potential. Let the guy breath, and give him time to develop.
C: After Ekblad, who's your second ranked OHL skater, Bennett or Dal Colle?
T: I have Bennett as my No. 2 skater right now. He has elite skating ability, and is a much better two-way player than Dal Colle, so that's the biggest thing for me. Dal Colle is an unbelievable talent, but he needs work in the defensive zone. He plays his man way too lose for my liking, and looks disinterested in playing defence. He likes to blow the zone to get a head start the other way, and that hurts his team at times.
C: It's rare to find a mock draft without one of those two landing in Calgary's lap, what can you tell us about them?
T: Bennett is a very fast, skilled two-way player. He plays the game at a high pace, sees the ice well, and can score goals, too. He's not afraid to get involved physically, and he can play in all situations. Dal Colle has an NHL release, and is exceptional offensively. He needs to work on his defensive game, but he should be a guy who can produce points at a high rate in the NHL.
C: Of the two power forwards ranked within the Top 10 ,who do you like more, Perlini or Ritchie?
T: Nick Ritchie is inconsistent at times, but I give him the edge. He plays a much more physical style, and has the ability to take over games. Perlini is a big body, but he's not overly physical, and is more of speed guy than a true power forward. A lot of his goals came on the power play, and he likes to play on the perimeter.
C: Which eligibles have surprised this OHL season?
T: Andrew Mangiapane is a name most haven't heard of, but to me he was a big surprise this season. He wasn't drafted into the OHL, before Barrie picked him up. He had a really nice season there, and was a consistent offensive threat. Mangiapane is a guy who's not on a lot of people's radar because of his size, but he doesn't back down from bigger players and will battle in the dirty areas of the ice. He sees the ice well, is a good skater, and is real smart with the puck. Mangiapane scored 24 goals and recorded 51 points in 68 regular season games, and posted seven points in 11 playoff games. He'll be a late pick if he's drafted, but considering he wasn't expected to even play in the OHL this season, it's quite a story.
C: Which have disappointed?
T: To me, Blake Clarke was far and away the most disappointing player in the OHL this season. He entered the year projected to be a top-10 pick in the NHL draft, and now he'll probably be taken late in the draft, if at all. He's loaded with talent, but he got off to a slow start this season, lost his confidence and never really recovered. I think he's too talented to fall off the face of the earth, and given his talent he could be a good sleeper pick. A summer off to recharge could be just what he needs.
C: The 1st round always holds a lot of weight with fans, but the later rounds often offer solid value as well, who are some potential gems that are currently ranked outside the Top 30?
T: Michael Amadio is a solid two-way center who skates pretty well, and has some untapped offensive potential. He didn't post big numbers playing on a low-scoring, defensive team in North Bay, but I think he has 'pro player' written all over him. He needs more polishing, but he's a guy who can play in any situation, and is someone I could see in the NHL a few years down the road. Another guy I like is Barrie Colts forward Kevin Labanc. He's not a big guy at 5'10", but there's room to grow there. He can skate, is good with the puck, and can play on the power play or penalty kill. I think with more of an offensive role in Barrie next season people will get to see how good he can be.
C: Who are some OHL prospects you see as overrated?
T: I don't know if overrated is the correct term for it, but I'll go with Robby Fabbri. He's a guy who's game I really like, but due to size concerns, and somewhat inflated numbers on a powerhouse Guelph team, he's rated higher by some people than he should be. (Christian's Note: The scouting community has been torn over Fabbri all season. There's no doubting he has tremendous skill, but many are concerned about his size and the likelihood his numbers translate to the pro game. I've heard some list him as Top 10, while others question him as a 1st round talent.)
C: How does the 2014 OHL class compare to recent ones? Do you buy the notion that 2014 is a weak draft?
T: I don't think it's a weak draft. The perception many people have is if it's not considered to be one of the best drafts ever, it's a weak draft. I don't think that's the case. There's a lot of good players in this class, and several guys have the potential to be elite.
C: Are there any second or third time eligibles that have made a considerable case this year to finally be picked?
T: There are several, actually. Center Erik Bradford is a guy who should have been selected last year. He was kind of buried on a high-end Barrie team, but his defensive play was excellent, and he produced points whenever he was given a chance. He was traded to Ottawa midway through the season, and he recorded 42 points in 27 games there playing on the top line. His season ended early due to an unfortunate injury, but he showed enough to get drafted. Defenseman Brandon Devlin was given an opportunity to play big minutes in Peterborough, and he used his big shot to his advantage scoring 14 goals and picking up 40 points. I think he has potential to be taken late, too. There's a handful of guys just like that, in fact.
C: Like always, we'll end on a personal note, who's your favourite OHL eligible and why?
T: I'll go with Sam Bennett, just because I think he has the potential to be an elite two-way forward who can produce points at a high rate, and drive possession. Those don't come around too often. (Christian's Note: And Flames fans drool.)