1. Brandon Saad, LW Saginaw Spirit: At 6-2, 200 this big-bodied American has a lot of skill and is arguably the best prospect the OHL has to offer this season and could be NHL-ready in 2011-12, he's that good and physically developed. Along with Seth Ambroz, Saad has been a force up front for about three years now and continues to develop on an upward curve at a time when big, skilled power forwards are more in demand than ever. "He's a great skater, playmaker, has good hockey sense and has that goal scoring ability you look for," said an NHL scout familiar with his game.
2. Gabriel Landeskog, RW Kitchener Rangers: This Swedish power forward prospect has come on like gangbusters since coming over to the OHL last season and big things are expected of him this year. He loves to take the body, goes hard to the net and has the size (6-1, 200) to go with excellent skating chops to be the kind of complete package every NHL team covets. "He's an angry, angry player some nights. He bangs, he scores and even plays some defense, too," another NHL scout said.
3. Matt Puempel, LW Peterborough Petes: The word on the street right now is: don't be fooled by the points production Puempel put up at the Ivan Hlinka-- he wasn't that good. The reigning CHL rookie of the year is coming off a 33-goal season with the Petes at age 16 who can skate and score, but who also reportedly had a pretty poor Team Canada evaluation camp. Add Red Line Report to the list of people unimpressed with Puempel this summer: they called him the "most disappointing" player on Team Canada, and while acknowledging his outstanding physical and skill package, said that he had a lot of trouble finding his comfort zone and consistency up front. For a kid thought to be a consensus top-five pick next June, this is an interesting development and bears watching.
4. Ryan Murphy, D Kitchener Rangers: Ah, if he only had another three or four inches on his frame. This offensive defenseman has been described to me alternately as "unreal" and "fabulous" offensively, and a "disaster" and "complete gongshow" defensively. But even with the critiques of his defense, those folks say he's just so good at skating and generating offense that you can overlook the defensive problems with this kid. He's a premier puck mover and blazing skater with high-end speed and agility and the creativity to do whatever he wants with the puck. But at 5-10, 160 pounds, has a lot of growing to do and is not ever going to have the size that makes Drew Doughty a future Norris Trophy winner and a player everyone salivates over.
When compared to Ryan Ellis, Nashville's top pick in 2009, an NHL scout had this interesting bit to say about Murphy: "I think he's a much more dynamic player than Ellis is." And honestly, that's a mouthful right there. Another scout said this: "If you don't stop this kid at your own blue line, you're ****ed. He's right by you and is creating a scoring chance, because he's pretty unstoppable if he cranks it up through the neutral zone." The bad news for Bruins fans: He's another small defenseman, and the team already has a surplus of those, albeit none with Murphy's pure talent. Curiously enough, Murphy was left off Team Canada's gold medal-winning Ivan Hlinka squad, a decision that most every scout I've talked to has derided at ludicrous.
5. Alan Quine, C Kingston Frontenacs: Heady centerman has the speed and intelligence to produce offensively, but plays on a bad team. He only has average size at 5-11, 175 pounds, but shows a willingness to go into traffic. He performed well at Team Canada evaluation camp and was in the Hlinka team that captured gold. He was solid if unspectacular in that tournament, and he'll need to improve on the 11 goals he scored last year to make a legitimate run at a top-20 selection.
6. Garett Meurs, C Plymouth Whalers: Often overshadowed on the Whalers because of the presence of Tyler Seguin, Meurs has managed to capture the attention of scouts nonetheless because of his excellent hockey skills. "Meurs always seems to be the 'other guy' on whatever line he plays on, but he produces," one NHL scout recently. He's probably not going to be a star NHLer, but Meurs is the kind of complementary player with the ability to score 30-35 goals and be a valuable contributor for years.
7. Dougie Hamilton, D Niagara Ice Dogs: At 6-4, 190 pounds, and some speed and solid footwork, this player is a raw, but intriguing talent. What Derek Forbort was last season to people who desired a defender with legitimate size and some offensive chops, Hamilton is to this draft. He's well behind Adam Larsson and David Musil in terms of pure talent and upside at the defense position, but could develop into one of the better players in this class over time. Moves well in all directions and will jump up into the rush. Right now seen as more of a physical defense-first player who is gangly and still rounding into his athletic form. But, he has tremendous athletic bloodlines, his parents Doug (rowing) and Lynn (basketball) having both been Canadian Olympians. Depending on what kind of season he has, he's either going to shoot up the board or fall precipitously, because there will probably be little middle ground for a project like him.
8. Scott Harrington, D London Knights: On paper, this 6-1, 190-pound rearguard may be another guy for Bruins fans who believe the team desperately needs size and talent on defense to put some time and energy into following. He's big, strong, skilled, skates well and plays a very good shutdown game. Even his supporters acknowledge that he may not be much of an offensive presence at the next level, but he's one of those players you can put the term "upside" on. That said, others aren't so sure. "I think he's overhyped and needs to show more," said one NHL scout. "He's got good size, is a good skater and is good defensively, but he doesn't do a lot for me. At least, he's not someone I'm looking at in the first round right now unless he picks it up and shows me some more."
9. Boone Jenner, C Oshawa Generals: Beyond the great name, this is a pretty good-sized (6-1 195) centerman with some real skill and upside. Bad news up front: His skating is not NHL-caliber, and he's definitely going to have to improve on his first few steps and overall agility if he's going to have a chance at being a top-two liner in the show one day. However, he's so good on the puck and oozes hockey sense, plus has a tremendous work ethic (two scouts have used the ubiquitous "He skates his bag off!" line with me) to boot. If he can improve the skating/speed, he's got a shot to be a player. But, where you take a guy like this is the big question right now. Red Line has him 14th overall, but others I have talked to see him more as a late-first/early second, while yet another said the skating could drop him a lot lower if he hasn't addressed it this season.
10. Lucas Lessio, LW Oshawa Generals: Jenner's new teammate comes over from the St. Mike's Buzzers of Jr. A after deciding not to follow a path to the University of Michigan. The two had a chance to skate together at the Ivan Hlinka and get some chemistry down for the upcoming OHL season. A pure talent with speed and goal scoring instincts, but doesn't always give it his all on the defensive side of things and can be a one-man show at times. He's definitely a player to watch this season to see how he handles the challenge of the OHL after tearing it up last season for the Buzzers and having a good showing at the Ivan Hlinka.
More OHL players to keep tabs on:
Austen Brassard, RW Belleville Bulls: Traded from Windsor in the Philipp Grubauer deal, this power forward lives up to his team's name. He's a powerful, physical player who will go through people on his way to the net. Can skate OK, but has a nice modicum of skill to his package, so if he can pick up a step or three, could be a real monster when he fills out (6-2, 192).
Brett Ritchie, RW Sarnia Sting: If he were a better skater, a lot of people would be pretty excited about this kid. At 6-3, 204, he's already a horse and real tough to contain when he gets it going and grabs possession of the puck in the offensive zone. Protects the puck well and showed some scoring panache in Slovakia at the Ivan Hlinka, but has a lot of improving to do before he can be considered a legitimate top-six forward prospect.
David Broll, LW Erie Otters: The third of three big power forward prospects, Broll is a mean, nasty hitter who is the most intimidating of the three, but also possesses the lowest ceiling at present. He's got a really poor first few steps and lacks agility/turning ability, but is one of those straight-ahead skaters who's fine once he gets going. Another Hlinka alum, Broll's got some skill, too, but his real effectiveness is when he's bowling guys over and opening up space for his linemates. Because of the size (6-2, 220) and nastiness, he'll be a top-two round pick in June, but like Ritchie and Brassard is a work in progress and probably comes with more risk than the other two. Because Mississauga is hosting the 2011 Memorial Cup, scouts will get a chance to see how he progresses this season from start to finish-- should be very interesting to see.
Daniel Catenacci, LW Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: The top selection in the OHL draft two years ago is a flashy, explosive player who doesn't have a lot of size (5-10, 180), but has the jets, hands and dash to attract notice. He's very skilled, good on the puck and can finish in a variety of ways, but some wonder how his game is going to translate at the next level. He's the classic player who will fool the novice or uninitiated fan who will be easily dazzled by his pure speed and slick moves, so when watching this player, you have to focus on the little things like his awareness, presence and willingness to work as hard in all zones as he does when the puck is on his stick. Because of his pure talent and draft pedigree, Catenacci will be closely scrutinized this year, but will need to do more than just score to earn a high grade and early selection in June.
Carter Sandlak, LW Guelph Storm: At 6-2, 199 this is just a big, no-frills up-and-down winger who grinds and brings the physicality, but not much else. Not a very good skater, but he hustles the best he can and is at his best when taking the body and laying into people. Doesn't have the skill or creativity to be much more than a fourth-line NHL player, but has the kind of desire and other intangibles to watch and see where he gets himself.
Stuart Percy, D Mississauga St. Mike's Majors: A B2011DW favorite-- but is on the outside looking in to start the season. Has a nice 6-1 frame, but skating is just ehhh. If he can pick up a step, he could work himself solidly into the 1st round. "He's got some good hands and hockey sense," said one NHL scout familiar with him. "His skating needs some work; if he's not moving his feet or if he gets caught flat-footed, he can have issues out there, but he's got the potential to be a solid puck-mover and first-round pick if he can improve his overall mobility." Percy is the kind of player the Bruins normally target under the radar because he does have the nice size and skill package. Red Line said he was "unnoticeable" at the Ivan Hlinka, but that can be a pretty good thing when you play defense. Watch this guy.
Vince Trocheck, C Saginaw Spirit: Smallish Michigander has some real speed, skill and moves. He was on the USA team that won silver at the Hlinka and has a real shot to be one of those second-round picks who ends up impressing a lot of people over the course of the season. "He's dynamic and has an edge for a smallish guy. He plays hard in traffic," one scout said.
Craig Duininck, D Windsor Spitfires: Another American who opted for the OHL and who won a Memorial Cup last spring with Taylor Hall. He's got good size, feet and the ability to move the puck although is nothing flashy. He's also got some guts; dropped the gloves against a much bigger, more accomplished opponent and got tuned, but stood in there and took one for the team. "He's a nifty little player; he would have gotten more hyped if he had played on any other team last year," said an NHL scout.
Matt Mahalak, G Plymouth Whalers: A big frame and some real athleticism are only the beginning of Michigan native's promise. He also plays a fundamentally sound game and shows the kind of calm and poise you want to see in a netminder. This will be an interesting year for him, with Seguin expected to be on the Bruins.
Tyson Teichmann, G Belleville Bulls: Very slight (145 pounds dripping wet) goalie shutout Team USA to capture gold in Slovakia, but wasn't sensational (and with that team in front of him, didn't have to be) in the Under-18 tourney this month. Makes a good first save, but could stand work on rebound control. Good glove and stick and overall has some strong attributes, but is not considered to be anything all that special in what is shaping up to be a weak goalie class.
Other OHLers to watch (mostly Europeans that I don't have a baseline for yet)
Nicklas Jensen, LW Oshawa
Vladislav Namestnikov, C London
Andrei Pedan, D Guelph
Tobias Rieder, LW Kitchener
Rickard Rakell, RW Plymouth
Danny Elser, C London
Colin Suellentrop, D Oshawa
Steve Broek, LW Kingston
Cody McNaughton, RW Guelph
Seth Griffith, C London