This post was very difficult to do because the OHL has so many good players, and even doing a 1-12, you're looking at players who are going to be solid second-round options as 13 and later.
The OHL's depth in this class is once again the story of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, right up there with Sweden, who, when we do the European roundup of players playing across the Atlantic, you'll see dominate that top-12 as well.
In breaking down the OHL class, it's truly remarkable how many legitimate draft options with upside the league has produced this year. And even if you may not agree with the exact order in which these players are ranked, we've done our best to assess them based on skill and potential, in talking to numerous sources with NHL teams who cover the OHL.
So, let's get this roundup going and break down what these players did in the regular season.
Here is the post we did on the OHL way back in August when we previewed the class. It's pretty stunning who went on to post the kind of year that has kept them in the elite prospects, while other guys on the preseason preview pretty much fell off the map. It just goes to show you how much things can change from the 16-17 season to the 17-18-YO campaign when you factor in pressures of being in the draft year, team dynamics, injuries and the numerous other factors that determine whether a kid steps it up or crashes and burns.
On that note, here's the ranking:
1. Gabriel Landeskog, RW Kitchener- Some have Ryan Strome ahead of this Swedish power forward and that's just fine. We are B2011DW are sticking with several scouts, who feel that while Landeskog's potential offensive ceiling may not be quite as high as Stome's, he's more of a complete package and as a power forward, is a safer bet to take first. Would we be surprised at NHL teams having Strome as the top OHL player on their board? Not at all. But Landeskog has a solid two-season track record, while Strome broke out this season, so the first-ever European captain of the Rangers gets the slight edge. Landeskog finished with 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games with 61 penalty minutes, demonstrating that he can finish and plays with an edge, but isn't an undisciplined player. You have to look long and hard for any flaws in Landeskog's game, and his character, intelligence and attitude are beyond his years as an 18-year-old who had his birthday in November. Landeskog is not huge- only about 6-0/6-1 but is a very stout 205 pounds and has a lot of upper- and lower-body strength. He's a good skater who isn't a blazer, but does have nice jump and can separate. He's very strong on his skates and uses that lower leg drive to go right to the net, fight off defenders and make things happen in close. He can fire the puck off the rush, but while his drive is heavy, it's not all that overpowering, so he does his best work between the hashmarks. Landeskog sees the ice well and distributes the puck as his pretty even split of goals and assists attests. Landeskog suffered a high ankle sprain just before the WJC, and then re-aggravated it in Sweden's first game against Norway, forcing him to miss about 6 weeks of the season. That hurt his production, but even if he had played the whole year, he would not have put up 100+ points. The strength of his game is in his completeness as a player: he can play the finesse game or grind it out, blocks shots, kills penalties, fights and does whatever his team needs him to do. He's compared a lot to Jarome Iginla, which is apropos, considering Landeskog looks up to the Calgary captain the most as his model player. He not only passed on going the traditional route via Swedish Elite League to come to North America, but plays a decidedly North American-style game. The only real criticism you'll find with Landeskog is in his ultimate upside, as his overall skill level is not as high as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Strome or even Jonathan Huberdeau. But in the end, because he does so many things well and is a heart-and-soul player, he's going inside the top-four of the 2011 draft, end of story. He's also got hockey bloodlines, as his father, Tony was a rugged defenseman in the SEL. Looks like the younger Landeskog inherited some of the best attributes from his dad.
Stock watch: Believe it or not, Central Scouting's #1 North American skater at mid-season is a little down going into the playoffs not because he played poorly, but because Kitchener went on a late-season slide, and other players have really elevated their games to finish the year with a flourish (RNH, Huberdeau, Strome, etc.) We have to believe that there is an NHL club picking high who is totally unconcerned with Landeskog's lower production when compared to those guys and every year, the buzz and hype on the internet tends to get out of hand. People are riding the Strome bandwagon now and rightfully so, but that doesn't mean Landeskog will slide. A strong playoff performance and he's right back up near the top.
Here's a video by Open Ice Hockey that features three Kitchener teammates Landeskog, Murphy and Tobias Rieder. You can see that he's already got the hockey-isms like the prolific use of "obviously" down.
Here's an NHL profile on Landeskog. His composure and maturity really comes through in this video.
2. Ryan Strome, C Niagara- No player in the draft did more to come from the middle of the pack to grab elite draft status than Strome did this season. He had a magnificent year, finishing with 33 goals, 73 assists and 106 points, holding the OHL league scoring lead until the last day of the season, when Kings and Flyers prospects Tyler Toffoli (5 points) and Jason Akeson passed him up to both finish with 108. Missed a few games due to a Joey Hishon sucker punch, otherwise he probably would have led the OHL in scoring. Strome came into the season not on many radars in terms of being a first-round pick, but hit the ground running and never looked back. Average size, but grew a bit since last year, which helped him in terms of where he's regarded amongst scouts. Excellent skater who can beat defenders with his speed or elusiveness. Very soft hands and superb puckhandler who uses his feet and creativity to be a going concern offensively. Just a dynamic scorer who isn't quite in RNH's class, but isn't too far off, either. Will probably break into the top-5 in June because he is such a skilled player who can both score the goals and set them up. He's a hard worker who doesn't have any real flaws to his game- just needs to get stronger and continue to be diligent in the defensive aspects. He's a high character kid who has a good sense of humor and is one of the more adept young players on Twitter these days, which means little in the grand scheme of things, but will be welcome news for the media relations folks with the NHL team who drafts him. We don't want to say he came out of nowhere, because Strome did show flashes of his potential with Barrie and Niagara last season after coming over in a trade, but you'd have to be related to Nostradamus if you want to say that you saw this kind of a year coming.
Stock watch: Blue-chip; Strome is shooting through the roof right now because of what he did to tear it up after returning from the Hishon-induced concussion. He took it to the wire scoring-wise and impressed myriad scouts with his outstanding skills and hockey sense. He has all the makings of a solid top-six forward at the NHL level and has star potential as well.
Here's a TVCogeco interview with Strome done earlier in the season. He's going to be very popular with teams and media alike at the Combine.
Here's the goal he scored against Plymouth that really got folks buzzing about him- pure danglesauce.
3. Brandon Saad, LW Saginaw- It was a disappointing season for the power forward who came into the year as the top-ranked OHL player on many lists given his size and skill package. The 6-2, 210-pounder from Pennsylvania can really handle the puck and has a powerful shot that he can really rip- an NHL caliber release on it already. Saad also has a long, fluid stride. He's a powerful skater who can use his feet to get into scoring position and convert breakaways. He also anticipates well and seems to have a real good feel for the game's flow with good on-ice vision. After the season he had with the U.S. NTDP last year, big things were expected of him with the Spirit and he got off to a nice start only to tail off production-wise as he battled injuries and consistency woes. In terms of pure potential, there aren't many players better than Saad in the entire 2011 draft class, and if he falls closer to 10 or even out of the top-10, then the team who lands him could have big steal on their hands. His 27 goals and 55 points in 59 games isn't great, but is just scratching the surface of the kind of player he has the capability of becoming if he gets his development back on track. He's a horse along the walls and virtually impossible to slow down when he shields the puck and gets the cycle going. Scouts tell us he needs to play with more of a mean streak and raise the intensity levels, but all the tools are here for an accomplished NHL player in time.
Stock watch: Down, but like Landeskog, may have already sold enough teams on his value based purely on the physical package and upside he brings to the mix. When you look at the power and skill this kid possesses, you can see why he was so highly-touted coming into the season. Not everyone has the ideal draft year, but Saad is still worth a top-10 selection in our view.
You can see his breakaway capability in this video, as he beats P.K. Subban's little brother and then later exhibits some neat agility and footwork before ripping the puck past Malcolm Subban from the slot. Power forward goal right there- boom.
4. Dougie Hamilton, D Niagara- If you are a long-time reader of B2011DW, then you know that we've been big fans of Dougie for quite some time now. He just finished a record-setting season, establishing the club record for points by a d-man on the IceDogs with 58 on on 12 goals and 46 helpers (breaking Alex Pietrangelo's old mark). The offense from the 6-4, 195-pounder was pretty unexpected, as he only scored 3 goals and 16 points as a rookie and probably could have called a 34-point campaign a success. Hamilton is a very good skater for a defenseman of his size, exhibiting some real jump and smooth acceleration, top speed, and excellent lateral agility and footwork. His wheels allow him to jump into the play, and he's a self-described "sneaky offensive player" who scored several of his goals by shooting down into the slot and losing his man in time to rip the puck into the back of the net. With his size and mobility, he can play a shutdown role, but he has a big point shot, so he has power play duty in the NHL as a realistic option. He's a right-shooter, so on a team with a big lefty, Hamilton could be even more valuable. His coach, Marty Williamson, told us that Hamilton needs only minor tweaks to his game, and that he gets in trouble when he stops moving his feet (as most defenders do at any level- let's face it). Some scouts are concerned about his vision and ability to move the puck at the next level, but we don't see it. He's a solid kid with tremendous blood lines (both parents were Olympians in rowing and basketball) a high intellect (2010 OHL scholastic player of the year and could win it again this season) and outstanding work ethic. Teammates genuinely like him, and he will play the game with an edge, though he mostly keeps things simple and clean. We don't buy the concerns about this guy and feel that at the absolute lowest, he'll be a 4th/shutdown D at the NHL level. He has No. 1/solid No. 2 upside and should be a high pick.
Stock watch: Up; stud d-man needed to show scouts that he could take his impressive physical tools and put them together- he did that and more. There is a big disparity between his home ice production and that on the road, but the issues with Hamilton's game and season are pretty nitnoid. At the end of the day, this is the prototypical defenseman NHL teams are looking for: big, mobile, skilled and having upside. Hard to imagine he'll drop very far on draft day, but a strong playoff would certainly lock him up inside the top-10 we think.
Here's an NHL.com profile on Dougie. You can see how well-spoken and articulate he is. He's primed to make a real impression at the draft combine.
Here's the sneaky he was talking about with us, with assists going to older brother Freddie and Strome.
More sneaky, with another hookup with Strome.
5. Ryan Murphy, D Kitchener- One might look at the fifth ranking and think that B2011DW is down on Murphy, but not so. We saw him live and could immediately understand what everyone was buzzing about. He's as dynamic a skater as they come, and he handles the puck so adroitly that he can create instant offense on his own. For a smaller guy (5-10 or 5-11, 180), he can really fire the puck and gets a ton of velocity and power on his shot, much like Windsor 100-point scorer and Nashville 1st-rounder in '09 Ryan Ellis, but we try to avoid Ellis comparisons, because they are different players who only really have the small size and production to link them. Murphy just missed hitting 80 points this season with a 26 goal, 53-assist campaign derailed by a late-season concussion that forced him to miss time. Still, he scored 20 more goals and 40 more points in just one more game in his second OHL season than he did a year ago. There is so much to love about this kid's game- we could go on and on. And positionally, he's done a nice job of improving his overall defense. The concerns come in when it comes to durability and whether NHL clubs feel he can take a regular shift on D. His coach, Steve Spott was emphatic with us that he will be a top-2 NHL defenseman when we spoke to him about it, but that is not a consensus opinion. If Murphy goes anywhere before pick 7 or 8, then the team that chooses him will be in Spott's camp. The injury concerns are real, as more and more smaller players who skate at such high speeds and are fearless in the offensive zone are getting blown up. Murphy took a big hit late in the year and wasn't the same. He also struggled through lower body injuries that reduced his effectiveness as the grind of the season wore on. On pure talent alone, Murphy is a no-brainer for any NHL team looking for offense from the blue line, but with more and more importance being placed on high picks and getting them right, he carries some risk as well. Murphy has excellent character and is a good teammate; the only thing working against him is the lack of size when you project him in the NHL going up against 6-3 and 6-4 power forwards and taking those big open ice hits when he's gunning through the neutral zone carrying the puck as he is wont to do. Maybe it amounts to nothing, but it is something teams are discussing.
Stock watch: Down, but it's all relative and nothing that a deep playoff run won't solve. Again, nobody doubts the skill or production- it's all there. Where Murphy goes in the 2011 draft will be more about things beyond his control, so all he can do is to remain healthy and put forth his best effort and the rest will take care of itself.
Here's an NHL.com profile on Murphy. He likes Mike Green, go figure.
Here's Don Cherry's Coach's Corner segment from HNIC on Murphy, posted to YouTube by our very own friend of blog, Dom T. Settle down on Murphy going No. 1 overall, Grapes- but Murphy is a heckuva player, no doubt.
6. Matt Puempel, LW Peterborough- The 2010 CHL Rookie of the Year followed up his 33-goal first OHL season with 34 goals and 69 points in 55 games (to finish with the team scoring lead even though he missed 13 games) before suffering a hip injury that ended his season. His production was laudable because he didn't get a lot of help on his Petes team, but still managed to remain a threat to score even with a lot of checking attention on him. He has just average size at 6-0, 190 pounds, but compensates for that with his skating, hands and heavy shot that has pinpoint accuracy. Smooth stride and can gain separation; will go into traffic and the places on the ice where he must in order to score. He reads and anticipates the play extremely well, and is one of those guys who just seems to find ways to get himself into scoring situations. When all is said and done, he's probably one of the more underrated players in the OHL class, because given what he's accomplished in two seasons offensively, he's not on the tips of many tongues when talking about the top-10 guys in the 2011 draft. Puempel has a slender frame and needs to get stronger, but there are no issues with his high-end skills. He's been dinged for going through streaky periods where he isn't involved as much as he should be, but the reality is- he played hurt in the Ivan Hlinka (back) and still managed to be productive. He's probably got more skill and talent than several of the players ranked ahead of him and could be another one of those steals who, people will look back on and wonder how he lasted where he did in the draft.
Stock watch: Steady- no playoffs for Puempel, which means NHL teams who draft him will have to be confident that he'll come back from his hip injury as good as he was before. Given the advances in medical science that allow full recoveries and other injured players who have still been taken high in the NHL draft with injury concerns, Puempel shouldn't drop very far because of that.
Here's the Kruz Cam with Pete Dalliday from last season when Puempel played in the Under-17s (with Strome and Hamilton, btw)
And an ANewsLondon feature on him from the CHL Top Prospects Game.
7. Vladislav Namestnikov, C London- Skilled Russian came over to the OHL this season and played very well, finishing second to Bruins prospect Jared Knight (25 goals 70 points) in scoring for London with 30 goals and 68 points in as many games. He's a late-92 birthdate who made an immediate impact with his team and adjusted well to the North American game. Namestnikov led all Knights players with 30 markers this season and has high-end skills and nice wheels. He's very average-sized at 6-0 and about 170, so will have a lot of off-ice work to do in order to get his body ready for the pro hockey grind, but he's highly adept at handling the puck, setting up the play and thinks the game at an advanced level. He speaks perfect English, as he spent much of his youth in the U.S. and Canada while his dad, Evgeny, was playing in the NHL and AHL. His uncle, Slava Kozlov is a Stanley Cup champion and 800+ point scorer in the NHL, so Namestnikov's sterling blood lines will help. He's a typical skilled European player who is very good offensively, but is still a work in progress in terms of his defense, but there is some upside here for sure.
Here's an ANewsLondon feature on him from before the season started.
Fluky shootout goal here from London Knights, but you can see how he can rip it...
8. Nicklas Jensen, LW Oshawa- Perhaps the best player ever to come out of Denmark, this power forward prospect has it all: size, skill and some real intriguing NHL potential if he could just figure out how to keep his on switch engaged throughout a game. We saw him in January, and he was dominant, scoring several goals, assisting on a couple of others, and playing a tenacious game in all zones. Unfortunately, NHL scouts tell us that he was pretty inconsistent at times. His physical play was also inconsistent, as he had the size to own the wall and establish position in front of the net, but didn't do it as often as scouts expected. He's a long strider who covers a lot of ground with a powerful push, but needs to keep the feet moving. He can really rip it, too- scores more than a few goals from the outside with laser release and ability to pick corners. So, while he brings some real impressive talents and abilities to the mix, Jensen has to keep his compete levels at a higher level. How far will he drop in the draft? Our guess is not too far past 20 if at all because he is such a talented player that a team is likely going to believe they can reach and keep motivated. The 6-3, 190-pounder has plenty of room to fill out, and with 29 goals and 58 points in 61 games, proved he can score with the best of them. If Boone Jenner's motor was installed inside this kid, he'd be a top-three pick- no kidding. Big upside with this one, but some bust potential as well.
Oh, this is pretty.
9. Alexander Khokhlachev, C Windsor- Small (5-10, 170), but dynamic pivot had a terrific first season in North America with the two-time reigning Memorial Cup champions. In 67 games, he scored 34 goals and 76 points for the Spitfires. He's got explosive burst and top-end speed with that slippery elusiveness that makes a player with his quick stick so dangerous in open ice. He's one of those guys who just seems to live around the net and for making opportunities happen from very little to work with. Highly creative- the classic Russian player who can out-skate you, dangle the puck through you or around you, and then effortlessly fire it into the net. On the downside, he's not very strong and pretty one-dimensional. But, he plays with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He'll put forth the effort and belongs solidly in any first-round discussion.
Here are highlights of his four-goal game against Kitchener from pal Jerome B at NHLDraftVideo.
10. Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa- If he were a better skater, Jenner would be one of the most talked about players in this draft period. As it stands, he's probably going to be picked in the first round, even with the mobility concerns. "He just skates his bag off," said one NHL scout summing up Jenner's nonstop motor and work ethic in just a few words. Nothing fancy, just tough- he's got good size at 6-1, 195 and does whatever it takes to win. Plays with an edge and did improve his skating stride significantly from his first OHL season to this year. He's got quick mitts and the ability to finish in close even if he won't get many style points in the process. His 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games for the Generals this season are up from the 19 and 49 he posted last year. Not a flashy guy, but a pure leader who inspires with his example and will likely be more than the sum of his parts at the pro level because of his internal drive and character. If the feet were a little quicker, he'd be a no-brainer inside the top-10, but we think he's probably done enough to earn a top-30 selection for a team looking to steal a future captain and crunch time stud.
Here's a nice backhand goal posted on NHLDraftVideo.
11. Mark Schiefiele, C Barrie- Another player who didn't come into the season with high expectations, but outperformed other bigger names and may have done enough to get himself into the first round. If not, he's an early second-rounder at the absolute latest. Tall (6-3) lanky center has a long stride and will get more powerful as he adds mass to his frame. Was one of the few bright spots on a moribund Barrie Colts club this season- scoring 22 goals and 53 assists for 75 points in 66 games- that's saying something for a team that went 15-49-0-4 on the year. One NHL scout told us that he's a "safe" guy in that he has the requisite size and talent to be an NHL player and has a lacrosse background as well. Nice hands and shifty moves make him difficult to defend. Also displays good hockey sense. Could be one of those classic off-the-board picks because he brings so much to the table and could develop into a beast as he reaches his physical peak. Definitely one to watch on draft day.
12. Lucas Lessio, LW Oshawa- Former 7th overall pick in 2009 by Niagara refused to report and was headed to the University of Michigan until Oshawa acquired his rights and convinced him to go the OHL route. At 6-1, 195, has nice size and is a very good skater who can separate from defenders and also has good lateral agility for shifty moves as well. Hands and shot are all first-round caliber. Has good vision and will make high-end plays when he has time and space to work with. Maddeningly inconsistent- compete levels and effort wavers from shift to shift, even moreso than Jensen in our opinion. We watched him chirp at the referee in one game after being slashed while his team broke up ice on a 2-on-1. Would have been a 3-on-1 had he gotten up and jumped into the play- that kind of lack of discipline is what prevents a highly talented player like Lessio from ever being the full sum of his impressive parts. If the light ever goes on for him, he could be a star in the NHL, but we fear he will always be one of those guys who always leaves people wanting more. Posted 27-27-54 totals in 66 games for the Generals.
Nobody ever said he couldn't score. When he's involved, he's one of the more talented and dangerous players in this class.
Just missed: Rickard Rakell, Shane Prince, Daniel Catenacci, Stefan Noesen, Stuart Percy and Vince Trocheck. Perhaps we will do a follow-up post to include those players as well, as you could make a case for a couple in the 1st and everyone at the least in the 2nd round. That underscores the quality depth coming out of the OHL this season. We'll also feature late-risers like Ryan Sproul of Sault Ste, Marie and Justin Sefton of Sudbury and look at some overage options as well. If there is anyone else you'd like to see featured from the OHL, drop a comment and we'll see what we can do.
We'll move to that after we do the NCAA, Europe, U.S./Canada juniors and U.S. high school posts, however.