3Connor McMichael
Photo Credit: Luke Durda/OHL Images

2019 NHL Draft Scout Series: the OHL

Next stop on the 2019 NHL Draft Scout Series is the Ontario Hockey League. Dylan Galloway is Future Considerations’ Head of Eastern Scouting and was kind enough to share his thoughts on what shapes up to be a bit of a down year for OHL draft eligibles.

Christian Roatis: In what is a bit of rarity for the OHL, they have no representatives in the Top 10 of Future Considerations’ rankings for the 2019 NHL Draft – Ryan Suzuki is the top of the class at 14th overall, much lower than the top OHLer is usually ranked. Would you consider 2019 a down year for the OHL in terms of draft eligibles, and how would you characterize this OHL draft class as a whole?

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Dylan Galloway: Definitely a down year in the OHL, and one of the weakest I’ve scouted. Not to say that the prospects in this OHL class are bad, but it’s really a testament to how good the prospects are from other leagues, particularly in the Western Hockey League and the U.S. National Development Program.

This OHL draft class is also one of the more divisive classes with very little consensus on players throughout the class, most notably Arthur Kaliyev. There are some hidden gems throughout this OHL class though with some boom and bust potential.

Ryan Suzuki – brother of 2017 13th overall pick, Nick – has maintained a steady top-15 spot all year in FC’s rankings and like his brother features a superb hockey IQ, yet is rarely mentioned in the same breath as some of the other high end forwards in this draft class. Do you see him in the same light as the American and WHL contingent of elite forward prospects, and do you project top line potential with Suzuki?

I think there is a slight difference between the elite players in the top 10 and the next group, of which I would include Suzuki. There’s no question his IQ, vision, passing, and skating his are elite. His passing can be awe-inspiring, the way he finds new creative ways to get the puck onto the sticks of his teammates through the tightest lanes. But I think to consider him in that top tier of players he would have to show more consistent game changing ability, and improve his defensive zone game.

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As for projection, I think there is a high probability with Suzuki’s skill that he turns into a solid top 6 contributor. His playmaking ability and skating are high end enough for me to project his development into a top six forward as a high probability.

Thomas Harley is a bit of a divisive player among scouts, some seeing the big 6’3″ defenceman as the clear cut blue chip prospect that can play both ends of the ice with plenty of room to grow, while others think his repertoire lacks in the very thing his position is name after: defence. What’s your take on Harley? Do you see a lot of risk in his projection, despite a high ceiling?

I actually saw some good growth in Harley’s defensive game as the season went on. There is definitely more to be desired from his defensive game for sure though. I find he turns too late when defending the rush and has to utilize his stick and reach more than his body to angle players to the outside. That won’t work at the next level. He got a lot better towards the end of the season at getting his body between the attacker and the net and ensuring he had a better gap on the break-in. On the offensive side of the puck Harley has a great rushing game and really pushes the pace through the neutral zone. His ability to skate the puck deep in the zone and command a PP with confidence makes me confident that he will develop into a solid top four defender at the next level.

While we’re on the topic of divisive, nobody in this class has garnered more debate than Hamilton Bulldogs sharpshooter Arthur Kaliyev. Despite putting up 51 goals and 51 assists as a 17-year-old, questions about his work ethic and pro transferability have dogged him all year. How do you evaluate Kaliyev? Are you in the supporter boat or detractor boat, because there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground with this player?

I would say I’m on the more skeptical side with Kaliyev. Yes his scoring is undeniable. He’s able to put the puck in the net from anywhere in the offensive zone but is capable of using his size and powerful skating to get into higher danger areas of the ice.

My skepticism comes from his lack of speed, engagement away from the puck, and compete level. If he is going to score at the next level he will need to be able to create space for himself in order to get that shot off and his skating lacks the explosiveness to get the same scoring opportunities he was able to get in the OHL. His draft-plus-one season is going to be extremely interesting to watch.

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Philip Tomasino, Connor McMichael and Nicholas Robertson are three other forward prospects ranked in and around the end of the first round – of particular interest to the Calgary Flames who select 26th overall. In the context of OHL draft eligibles, they’re ranked by FC in the order I listed them above. What is the reasoning behind this? Which of the three do you see having the highest ceiling?

Tomasino possesses explosive speed, good puck handling, and both the ability to be a play-maker and a shooter. He’s got the tools to be highly effective in the offensive zone and showed as much this past season. His defensive game does need some work, but he showed a willingness to use his speed to get back and defend his zone.

McMichael is excellent in his own right. A smart two-way forward with solid speed, and an underrated shot. He struggled with consistency from game to game and could disappear for stretches not really contributing to the on ice effort and playing more a perimeter/support role.

Finally, Nick Robertson is another divisive prospect that can be found ranked anywhere from 15 to 40 depending on who you ask. Most of his detractors will cite his diminutive size as his biggest issue, and while I don’t believe his size is a big issue, his lack of ability to play any sort of physical game is fairly apparent, especially on the defensive side of the puck. He’s a speedy skater with unreal edges that help him cut quickly east-west. He’s got a laser of a shot and is also a creative playmaker with high end vision.

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Of the three I give the slight edge to Tomasino as I feel like he was more consistent in his offensive efforts and his offensive skills were just slightly better. As for which of the three aforementioned prospects has the highest ceiling, I think it’s very close between these three, but I might have to give the edge to McMichael. His smarts and ability to get into high danger areas of the offensive zone, and finish on his chances there, really make him seem like the type of player who is really going to develop into a tremendous top six centre in the NHL with some development.

The OHL seems to produce a handful of solid goaltending prospects year in and year out. Who are this year’s netminders that have caught your eye, and who’s potential excites you?

I’m not much of a goalie scout, that’s a whole different skill set on it’s own. Having said that, Hunter Jones has been the consensus top goalie prospect in the OHL for most of the season. He started the season really well, but tapered off towards the end of the season. He played 57 games, tied for second most in the OHL so he was likely getting worn down towards the end of the season. He’s got solid reflexes and his size combined with his good athleticism helps him cover a large portion of the net.

Every draft produces a number of diamonds in the rough – high potential players that can be had in the later rounds because there’s plenty of work to do to reach that potential. Who do you consider this OHL’s draft class’ diamond(s) in the rough, and why?

Ethan Keppen is a player I’ve been getting higher on as we get closer to the draft. He’s got good open ice speed, though he could stand to improve the explosiveness of his first three steps. Keppen is fairly well rounded with the puck on his stick as he’s a smart playmaker but also can put the puck in the net himself if he has an open shot. I’d like to see him grow his shot repertoire and improve his ability to win board battles. In general I think he’s still fairly raw and will need some development, that being said, he still scored 30 goals this season and racked up 59 points.

Which draft eligible has been your biggest surprise this OHL season?

Thomas Harley was a fairly big surprise this season. Hidden behind Nic Hague last season in Mississauga, Harley didn’t even get an invite to Team Canada’s Hlinka camp or team. He collected only 15 points in 62 games last season with the Steelheads and took a major jump this year to 58 points in 68 games.

His game grew fairly steadily as the season went on as well, making fairly significant improvements in his defensive game. He rose up the charts very quickly this season and impressively maintained his high ranking or even improved it in some eyes throughout the entire season, which is not an easy task.

Who has been your biggest disappointment?

Graeme Clarke. There is some boom/bust potential taking Clarke and I think he has a lot of potential to become a decent bottom six scorer in the NHL. He’s got an absolutely lethal shot, and can be dynamite on the offensive side of the puck. But there are times when he is on the ice where he is just physically and mentally a step behind the play. There’s just too much inconsistency in his game right now to be able to confidently say he will reach his potential.

If you had to choose a most overrated and most underrated prospect (in the public forum) for this year’s draft from the OHL, who would they be?

Well depending on who you ask, I think the most overrated player from the OHL this year is Arthur Kaliyev. Like I have already mentioned there is definitely some high skill there, I’m just not a fan of his play away from the puck and outside of the offensive zone. I wouldn’t take him in the first round.

There are several players I feel are underrated in this OHL class. I’ve already mentioned why I think Ethan Keppen is a diamond in the rough. I think his Flint Firebirds teammate Kolyachonok hasn’t been talked about enough as one of the better two-way defensive prospects in this draft. After being waived by the London Knights, the Belorussian was nabbed by the Firebirds. He’s an excellent skater which helps him get up and down the ice with ease. His agility really helps him keep opponents to the perimeter of the ice in his own zone where he can engage them physically, strip them of the puck and quickly transition the puck up the ice. There really were few weaknesses to his game and if he slips to the mid second round or early third the team that drafts him are going to be pretty pleased with the value they get with that selection.

Lastly, who is your favourite draft eligible OHLer this year, and why?

My favourite draft eligible OHLer is Keean Washkurak. He’s not the most skilled player but he plays a fun throwback style of game and goes hard each and every shift. He’s eager to throw his body around and shows no regard for his own safety when chasing down the puck, using some solid speed to get there first and take a bit of punishment in the process. He dropped the gloves at least two times against players much bigger than himself and handled them both with ease. This kid is a gamer and goes hard to the crease to clean up the garbage goals. He needs to work on his discipline a bit as he can lose his temper, but he also managed to put up 16 goals and 47 points this year and is an easy play to root for when he jumps on the ice.

2019 NHL Draft Scout Series

Western Canada

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