NHL Draft Scout Series: OHL

OHL

After kicking off our NHL
Draft Scout Series with the WHL last week, today we move east for a look at the
Ontario Hockey League, better known as “that place where Connor McDavid plays.” Brendan Ross from McKeen’s Hockey was kind enough to join us and chat OHL.

Christian: The OHL
seems to produce elite talent for the entry draft year after year, but is 2015’s
top end with McDavid, Strome and Marner the best we’ve potentially ever seen?

Brendan: I think that’s fair to say, at least in
the modern day OHL. Owen Nolan (1st), Keith Primeau (3rd),
Mike Ricci (4th) and Darian Hatcher (8th) headlined an
impressive 1990 class. I’d throw the 2008 OHL class into one of the best top of
the drafts ever too with Steven Stamkos (1st), Drew Doughty (2nd),
Zach Bogosian (3rd) and Alex Pietrangelo (4th). That was
certainly one of the best groups that I had the priviledge of watching.

In
saying that, with Connor McDavid leading the 2015 class I think we are in for a
couple great decades of hockey and he launches this trio into relevance. Dylan
Strome and Mitch Marner are special talents of their own and have the potential
to develop into the next Joe Thornton and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins/Patrick Kane
clones. However, until that duo reaches that lofty status, I will keep them
behind Stamkos’ 2008 crop.

C: We all know
what Connor McDavid can bring at his best, but is he that dominant, all-world
star every single shift or can he drop off at times? Is there a way to
consistently shut him down?

B: Let me start with a little back story first:
I remember back when Connor McDavid played his minor midget days with the
Toronto Marlboros and I made the three hour trek across the province to catch
him for the first time in live action. After watching him in three games, I was
blown away with how efficient this young 14-year-old was. He was a very good
skater but didn’t use it to his advantage like he does now. He had this slick
cut-out move from the back of the net and seemed to score every time he attempted
it. I thought to myself, “boy, that move won’t work against defenders at the
next level. He’ll get rocked.” Of course, I was wrong. He still uses that move
and usually completes it before defenders even flinch at the thought of
stopping him. That was the start of him utilizing his unique skill set of
generating speed through pivots and transitions, which is an extremely rare
ability.

That
is just one example of how McDavid quietly yet effectively finds unique ways to
break loose. To “contain” Connor, you need to limit his speed but without clutching
and grabbing him, it’s nearly impossible. There are few players on the planet
who can explode to top speed as effortlessly as McDavid. Elite skaters achieve
top speed in one (or two) quick strides. Connor does it in a half step.

Part
of the reason McDavid is so difficult to keep in check is because he’s a master
at sneaking into quiet areas. You’d think opposing defenses would mark up on
Connor every second that he takes the ice but he only needs milliseconds of
being unchecked to slide into a space and strike. To answer the question more
directly, McDavid isn’t necessarily “all-world” every shift but you are almost
guaranteed to see him do something special every time he steps on the ice.
After watching about 25 live viewings of McDavid over the past year, I’d
estimate that 90% of those I walked away with a “wow” moment. At this point,
the best method of stopping McDavid is to goat him into dropping the gloves and
hoping his aim is off when he starts throwing punches. I thought it’d be a long
time before we seen a better player than Sidney Crosby but Connor McDavid will
be that player. He’s that special. [Calgary
Flames fan author’s note: Crap.]

C: The
rankings – and scoring race – battle between Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner has
been one of the most fascinating story lines out of the OHL this season, how do
you handicap that race? Is one clearly superior to the other in your eyes?

B: As
Dylan Strome caught fire down the stretch, I was actually out of the province
and away from OHL scoreboards for several days. When I returned to see that
Dylan Strome overtook Mitch Marner’s (fairly sizeable) league lead, I was
shocked. It was nice to see Dylan Strome have a great draft year, especially
when he stepped up his play with Connor McDavid out of the lineup, but
finishing off the regular season with an offensive surge liked that just skyrocketed his stock.

Mitch Marner has been a personal favourite of mine
dating back to his rookie year in London. In limited action, Marner showed
shift after shift that he was an impact player. Down the stretch and into the
2014 Memorial Cup, it was Mitch Marner who took over as the Knights most
consistent and dangerous player. It was then that Marner landed in my books as
a potential top pick for the 2015 NHL Draft. As good as I thought Marner was,
he exceeded my high expectations and absolutely stole the show this season.

Based on personal preference, I am 100% a Mitch
Marner guy. Dylan Strome is going to be a very good pro and he owns a lot of
the coveted attributes that top line centermen possess. His size is
advantageous over Marner, but I don’t really see Marner’s height as a concern,
especially once he matures into his frame.

Strome does own elite vision, an underrated shot
and the pro touch in passing and those attributes will serve him well at the
next level but his skating still needs to improve to be a genuine star at the
next level. He’s improved in terms of using his size but he will never be a
crash-and-bang forward because he simply lacks that high-paced aggressive attacking
game.

Marner, on the other hand is a player who drives
the pace of play and that’s simply more appealing to me. He’s a smart patient
attacker whose puck handling abilities are as equally as strong as Strome’s and
that allows him to operate as a dangerous distributor. If Strome needs to
improve his skating, Marner will need to work on his shot as he definitely
lacks a feared release. In the end, I’d rather gamble on Mitch Marner’s ceiling
as a potential superstar because I feel both players’ floors are very similar
as comfortable second line options.

C: Lawson
Crouse has been one of, if the not the most polarizing draft eligibles from the
OHL this season, with the seemingly inverse relationship between his point
scoring and draft ranking. How do you view Crouse?

 B: Crouse
certainly has been the whipping boy for this draft and I do get the concern
regarding his lack of production because it lacks the “awe” factor teams want
in a lottery pick.

In saying that however, those who are saying that
he’s limited offensively are just plain wrong. He lands outside of the top 5 in
my rankings but I understand why teams would consider him as early as 3rd
or 4th overall. Crouse can absolutely wheel for a big man and his
presence below the hash marks is a valuable commodity because he can absolutely
dominate possession. [Author’s note: That’s what we like to hear at
FlamesNation!
] Teams looking at Crouse as a potential Top 5 pick are
banking on him tapping into his offensive upside – one that’s actually quite
intriguing. He owns an outstanding release, decent puck handling abilities (but
it’s more pronounced in traffic) and the smarts to operate as a support player.
In a lot of ways he could become a less-nasty Milan Lucic type of player.

In my opinion, Crouse’s game reminds me of a Wayne
Simmonds but with more offensive upside and all 30 teams would love to add a
Simmonds to their lineup.

Kingston was a bottom five team in OHL scoring and
was starved for offence, leaving Crouse as their go-to offensive weapon. He
still managed to break twine 29 times contributing 15% of the Frontenacs goals.
Just for comparison sake, Dylan Strome scored 13% of the goals on a high-octane
Otters offense. When Sam Bennett returned the Kingston lineup, Crouse upped his
points-per-game production from 0.81 to 1.12. I don’t ever expect Lawson Crouse
to put up point-per-game numbers as an NHL but Crouse is bringing a lot more
than just production to the lineup. Whether teams see value in selecting a 60+
point player, who excels in all-situations, in the Top 5 remains to be seen. In
realistic terms, he could see himself land in a similar spot as fellow
Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs alumni Bo Horvat did in 2013 when Vancouver snatched him
up 9th.

C: When the
Calgary Flames presumably march up to the podium to make their
15th overall pick this June, are there any OHLers whose names could be
called?

B: If
Brad Treliving is eyeing up OHLers then there are a few to watch when their 15th
overall pick comes due. With a talented top end from the OHL featuring McDavid,
Marner, Strome, Crouse and Pavel Zacha, the Ontario class actually falls off
slightly after that leaving. The handful of players listed above are all
expected to be gone in the first dozen picks; however, there might be an
opportunity for Calgary to scoop up Pavel Zacha if teams take the conservative
route. Another potential Flame could end up being Travis Konecny. Again, there
is a good chance that a team loves his heart-and-soul approach enough to draft
him before the 15th pick but he’s the most logical target from the
OHL options.

C: The first
round pick is expected to be only an appetizer to a sizeable main course which
includes 5 selections in the following two rounds. In regards to the 2nd round,
where they hold three hollers, who – in what is talked about as a deep
draft – would be good fits in Cowtown with picks 45, 52 and 53?

B: With
the six OHLers projected as “locks” in the first round, there are several names
to keep tabs on in the second. Four fairly
flashy puck moving defensemen come to mind in Oshawa’s Mitchell Vande Sompel, Erie’s
Travis Dermott, Barrie’s Rasmus Andersson and Niagara’s Vince Dunn.

If the Flames are looking for the purest puck mover
of the group then Vande Sompel would be their guy. He’s a converted forward
(who occasionally gets moved up as a forward to kill penalties) who possesses
outstanding poise and confidence with the puck. Vande Sompel is undersized and
can get pushed around physically leaving scouts wondering if he will be able to
stand the rigors of the NHL. He’s a very smart distributor who excels as the
quarterback on the powerplay.

Erie’s Travis Dermott is a more rounded two-way
defenseman and showed tremendous defensive awareness in the Otters deep playoff
run. Again, he’s undersized and will never push around attackers physically but
with his highly intelligent positioning and intuitive anticipation abilities,
Dermott could play a similar style as Duncan Keith does.

The OHL’s highest scoring draft eligible defender
was Rasmus Andersson who was once considered a first round prospect. He
benefited from feeding three 100-point forwards but will likely be a Top 50
selection. Andersson is a gifted passer and showed well on the powerplay
getting his shots on net but he’s not as high on my list as others. I still see
a lot of limitations in his mobility, especially in transitions and pivots.
He’s an okay defender but not great and there are a lot of times that he looks
disengaged if he’s not in possession.

The last of the mobile defenders who could land in
the 45-60 range is Niagara’s Vince Dunn. He is one of the OHL’s most gifted
skaters and is an absolute treat to watch maneuvre about the rink. He is prone
to some brain farts in possession and can be an adventure defensively but when
he sticks to pushing the pace up ice and keeping his decisions simple, he’s
extremely effective.

Greyhounds speedster Zach Senyshyn should
definitely be high on Calgary’s radar, especially when loaded with three
excellent picks. He’s the type of player worth swinging for the fences on and
I’d highly recommend using the 45th pick on him…if he’s still
remains on the board. Senyshyn is all about his upside and when you look at his
elite speed, pro-size and high-paced attacking game, there’s a lot to like. The
thing I love most about Senyshyn is that he understands how to use his speed and
takes it hard to the net, creating his own opportunities. He played a
depth role with a talented veteran-laden team so expect him to become a
front-line player and breakout next season. He’s got more defensive abilities
than he showed this past season as well.

Blake Speers is another intelligent skilled forward
from Sault Ste. Marie to watch. Like Senyshyn, Speers will move into a top line
role next season but he is a player with a lot of growth left. He potted impressive
sophomore numbers, especially considering his limited opportunities, with 24
goals and 67 points (57 games). He could stand to play with more of an edge at
times but there’s a lot of skill to work with and he’s a player who projects as
a late-bloomer.  

C: Moving on
to the 3rd round, the Flames are due to pick at 76 and 83. It’s tough
to gauge where the draft will be at, at this point with so many moving parts,
but who are a few of your favourites that could provide value in this area of
the draft? 

B: From
the middle of the first round until the 3rd round, there isn’t a
whole lot of consensus in rankings. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to
project which Ontario league options will remain available past the 2nd.

However, using my own rankings, keep an eye on top
ranked goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, Saginaw’s two-way pivot Mitchell
Stephens, Peterborough minute-munching defender Matt Spencer, IceDogs versatile
winger Graham Knott and Sarnia’s sniper Nikita Korostelev. Each of these
players are capable of being drafted in the second round but I feel more
comfortable placing them as early to mid third round prospects at this point.

Stephens had an excellent second half and finished
his draft year as the captain of Canada’s U18 squad and one of the team’s top
performers. Spencer is a two-way defenseman who may have been overworked in
Peterborough but he should settle into a nice 4 or 5 defenseman. Graham Knott
owns the size and two-way awareness to develop into a good middle-six winger
but he currently lacks the nastiness and finish you’d want in a player his
size. Nikita Korostelev is one of the OHL’s best trigger man but he’ll need to
improve his footwork to help him create more often off the rush.

C: Who has
been your most pleasant surprise in the OHL this year?

B: Beyond
Mitch Marner, Zach Senyshyn has been the biggest revelation for me personally.
As a native to the Ottawa region, I wasn’t overly familiar with him coming into
the season but I think it’s safe to say he exceeded everyone’s
expectations…including the Soo coaching staff.

C: Who has
been the biggest disappointment? 

 B: Rasmus Andersson. From a statistical
standpoint, Andersson had a fantastic rookie OHL season. However, unfairly or
not, he came to the league with a lot of hype and he never really landed in my
good books. Andersson remains a good prospect but the combination of his
incoming hype and lofty expectations left me slightly disappointed in his
long-term potential.

C: If you had
to choose a most overrated eligible and most underrated draft prospect, who
would they be?

B: Travis Konecny would be my most underrated
prospect. He remains high in my personal rankings and is expected to be taken
in the first round but I think whoever decides to select him will be very
happy. He’s arguably the most competitive and driven player from the OHL and
that sort of energy is contagious throughout the lineup. He’s capable of
playing along side star players (see his Top Prospects performance with Connor
McDavid) and has developed quite a bit as a playmaker, giving him another
lethal threat to go along with his excellent shot release.

Not
that I think Dylan Strome fits into the “overrated” category fairly (I still
have him in my Top 5) but there are elements of his game that worry me. John
Tavares showed that poor skating can be improved in stars and that it’s
slightly overblown so Strome will likely overcome that area just fine. But, I
do think that there are several players ranked behind Strome that could end up
being better NHLers. For now, Pavel Zacha, Matthew Barzal, Mikko Rantanen and
Lawson Crouse are all ranked behind Strome but I wouldn’t be surprised to see
all of these players edge out Strome long term. Again, maybe it comes down to
my preference for players with fire in their game and I don’t see it yet in
Strome. Because of that, I guess we could say Dylan Strome is slighly
overrated.

C: The OHL has
seen older players be snatched up in the draft at an increasing rate lately –
including Hunter Smith in the 2nd round last year to the Flames, and Tanner Pearson to L.A.
in 2012 – are there any once passed-over prospects positioned to be drafted a
second or third time around?

B: Barrie’s Andrew Mangiapane went undrafted
into the OHL and just became one of the league’s six 40+ goal, 100+ point
players. Small and quick with slick puck handling abilities, Mangiapane was
deserving of a pick last year and could end up being a Top 75 player this
season.

Budding
power forward Nick Betz gave Erie the sizeable presence up front and will be
adored by NHL scouts looking for size and Sudbury’s Matt Schmalz is another big
tough winger with decent skill who should get some looks.

Keep
tabs on Oshawa’s defenseman Stephen Desrocher who’s using his increased
opportunities at the Memorial Cup to showcase his well-rounded mobile game. Guelph’s
Pius Suter fled back to Europe after the conclusion of the Storm’s season but
he’s certainly worthy of a selection this time around after elevating his
offensive game to go with an already advanced defensive presence.

Goaltender
Liam Herbst had an outstanding season in Ottawa and might be the top ranked
re-entry from Ontario. Generals’ puckstopper Ken Appleby bid his time as a
backup for the past two seasons but with him taking over Oshawa’s crease this
season, he is doing everything he can to show that he’s got what it takes to be
an NHL pick and that’s evident by his superb play at the Memorial Cup. 

Lastly,
keep an eye on OHL Goaltender of the Year Lucas Peressini (Kingston), Brandon
Robinson (Kitchener) and Stephen Harper (Belleville) [Author’s note: Harper’s known for his quick release besides being
Prime Minister. Would only play for the Senators.
] at forward and Damir Sharipzyanov
(Saginaw), Trevor Murphy (Windsor) and Phil Baltisberger (Guelph) on the
blueline.

C: Lastly, who
was your personal favorite draft eligible prospect this season and why?

B:
Choosing just one player is extremely difficult. In
previous drafts, Alex Galchenyuk, Bo Horvat, and Robby Fabbri were personal
favourites of mine from the OHL. If push came to shove, Mitch Marner has to be
my OHL guy this season since I’ve been pumping his tires before most had him in
the top 10. I am also hoping that Lawson Crouse proves all of his critics
wrong. Deeper into the draft, keep an eye on defenders Cameron Lizotte and Kyle
Capobianco as potential “steals”.


Well, that was fantastic, wasn’t it? Huge
thank you to Brendan for taking some time to talk OHL with us and I highly
recommend you give him a follow on Twitter @RossyYoungblood as we lead up to
the draft. He’s one of the most knowledgeable OHL guys you’ll find, and you can maybe pester him with Hunter Smith questions.

  • YYC Flames

    Lot’s to process here.. this looks more and more like the deep draft it has been touted as.

    On McDavid.. I’ve heard his shot is lacking a bit.. which is a weapon that Crosby has always had. Anyone else hear that as his only “flaw”.

  • YYC Flames

    Seems like lots of good potential players that could turn into strong NHL players. Perhaps we can turn a few of our excess prospects/vets into 2-3 more picks in the first three rounds?

  • Hot damn. What’s not to love about these Scout Series articles? Flames-centric draft predictions and first-hand knowledge of the players.

    I wouldn’t hate it if the Flames drafted Konecny. A Bennett/Konecny line is drool-worthy. It would force Kevin Bieksa’s retirement, make him regret his hockey career and second guess his existence.

      • Totally agree on both these players. I’d be stoked with either…

        The other guy I can’t get out of my head is Daniel Sprong. I know Corey Pronman is really high on him to. To read his write up you’d think this is a top ten pick. Flames would’ve had a good look at him to, scouting McDonald.

        • McRib

          Daniel Sprong is a selfish “me first type” that constantly hung his team out to dry this season and was only playing to get noticed by scouts. Considering that the Flames look seriously at character when taking someone I highly doubt we draft Sprong. Don’t get me wrong he has all the offensive talent in the world, but doesn’t fit into our system. Sprong was -23 this season on a team that made the second round of the playoffs…. Nuff said. Sorry to be so harsh. I also was able to see Sprong all season on Sportsnets Draft Year where he just talked about himself every episode, no way he get past our interview process at the combine.

  • McRib

    I really hope the Flames can land Vince Dunn with one of our second rounders. Watching him at the Top Prospects he can flat out fly, easily one of the best skaters I watched all season. Reminds me of a young Tyson Barrie.

    Soooooo glad Lawson Crouse is going to go way too high for us!!!! He has bust written all over him, watched him at the U18 Summer Camp this summer, he looks like he has all the tools in the world, but he came away with only one goal in three scrimmages, zero finish (unless he is playing with Bennett). Crouses Hockey IQ is just not good enough to be a Top. 6 forward at the next level. I would give him a 20% chance that he ends up as the next Ryan Getzlaf and 80% chance he ends up as the Wayne Simmons or Lance Bouma type (not what I want out of a Top. 10 pick). Give me Jansen Harkins anyday over Crouse (still growing, elite two-way game).

    Wish we took Andrew Mangiapane last season as he was a sleeper on this same thread. I like the look of Zach Senyshyn as a second rounder as well playing on the stacked Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he came on late and would have had more points if ice time wasn’t limited on their loaded roster. No Travis Konecy if we are going for an undersized forward its Merkdadey all the way!! Konecy just doesn’t have the frame Merkley does to hang on through contact at the next level.

  • McRib

    I know this is the OHL thread but considering they don’t have a first rounder worthy of our 15th pick range (unless we move up or get another first, doubtful), I just want to say if we take a defenseman with our first rounder I really really hope we take Thomas Chabot he reminds me of this years Travis Sanheim, whose game kind of came out of nowhere in the second half this year and he was fantastic for Canada at the U18s. He could end up being one of the best defenders from this class a year or two down the road and like Sanheim I think Chabot goes much higher than where most people have him on their boards.