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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brock Otten breaks down the OHL

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch is pleased to have noted OHL blogger and analyst Brock Otten on this space to break down that league for the early portion of the 2010-11 season. The native of Oakville, Ontario, near Toronto, has been following the OHL since he was a youngster and his father would take him to Mississauga Ice Dogs games.

Like me, he got his start writing for HockeysFuture.com and further developed his passion for the Ontario Hockey League. He started his comprehensive OHL blog in October of 2008, and it’s been going strong ever since. Be sure to check out his pages over at: http://ohlprospects.blogspot.com/

I hope you enjoy his insights, and we'll try to touch base with Brock again as the season progresses and we see the OHL playoff picture shaping up. My thanks to Brock for taking time out to answer the questions and help to expand on what we know about the OHL prospects for the 2011 draft.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: The OHL has been widely considered the top producer of NHL talent for some time now. What are some of the main factors, in your view, of Ontario being such a prolific pipeline when compared to the other major junior circuits in Canada?

Brock Otten: That’s a good question. I’ll try to answer it without appearing biased (considering that I am an Ontarian). I think the main factor is just sheer population size to select from. Ontario has near double the population of any other province in Canada. While, the WHL and QMJHL draw from multiple provinces, together they STILL don’t add up to the number of people that the OHL has to draw from. Then, you throw in the fact that the OHL has the zoning rights to five of the most populated states (New York, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), it increases the pool to select from even more.

B2011DW: What does the 2011 OHL draft crop look like on the whole? How would you compare it to the 2010 class?

B. Otten: The group of players available for the NHL Draft this year from the OHL is absolutely sensational. I’m not being irrational when I say that it compares to the tremendous group that got selected in 2003 (widely considered to be one of the best drafts ever). Now I’m not comparing the entire draft crop to 2003, just the players available from the “O.” I’m not the only one saying this either, as I’ve read from numerous sources that the OHL is the cream of the crop in 2011. I saw a list of a scout at the beginning of the season, and he had 16 players from the OHL in his top 30…and that was BEFORE the strong showings from players like Ryan Strome, Vincent Trocheck, etc. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the OHL could make up half of the first round this year…perhaps even more. Just because of that, it overshadows last year’s crop (or any crop really).

B2011DW: Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad are being thought of right now by many as the guys who will go No. 1 and 2 out of the OHL. What are your thoughts on both players and who do you think right now possesses the edge?

B. Otten: Right now, I’d actually have Ryan Murphy ahead of any of them, but that’s just me. The way he moves the puck and the progression he’s made defensively is really impressive. He was made for today’s NHL, where teams need that Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Mike Green type of puck rusher to be successful offensively. But Landeskog and Saad are close behind at 2 and 3. I’d probably give Landeskog the nod at two because he’s currently the more complete player. There really isn’t a negative to his game. Where as Saad is a little less polished…and could become the power forward that Landeskog is…but isn’t quite there yet.

B2011DW: Based on what I've seen, Landeskog reminds me of a cross between Mats Sundin and Brendan Shanahan. Is that the kind of presence he's provided for Kitchener, and what do you think his recently being named captain says about him and the kind of style/intangibles he brings?

B. Otten: I think that’s definitely the style of play you’re looking at with Landeskog. He carries and protects the puck like Sundin, but is hard nosed and determined like Shanahan. I’m not sure he’ll ever develop the type of shot that both Sundin and Shanahan had, he’s more of a bullish, take the puck to the net goal scorer. If we’re talking comparisons, I see a lot of Jarome Iginla in Landeskog. And as for being named captain…this is a HUGE deal. Not only is he an Import (very rare to see an Import captain in the CHL), but he’s only in his second year in the league. It shows that he made an immediate impact in that dressing room, as early as last year and that he’s a take the bull by the horns kind of person. Leadership potential is certainly something that doesn’t go unnoticed by scouts.

B2011DW: Ryan Murphy-- is he going to be the first defenseman taken out of the OHL this year? Why? (Or why not?)

B. Otten: The opinion on Murphy is so polar. Those who love him, love him, and those who don’t are merely lukewarm. It’s definitely between Murphy and IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton at this point. I think it really depends on the development of BOTH players. If Murphy continues to round out his game and really becomes a quality two way defender by June, people will overlook the lack of elite size. But, if Hamilton continues to improve offensively and starts looking like a potential two way physical defender, he might be hard to keep down in the rankings. 6’4, mobile, physical, two way defenseman don’t grow on trees. But neither do defenseman with the vision, creativity, speed and puck carrying ability that Murphy possesses. As I mentioned earlier, I just think Murphy’s game is really tailored to the way the NHL game is played now, with speed and skill on the back end coming to the forefront.

B2011DW: Which, in your view, are the three top organizations in the OHL and why are they so highly-rated? What are the OHL teams (aside from the Majors) you see challenging for a spot in the Memorial Cup?

B. Otten: I’d say that the three top organizations in the OHL would probably be the (Windsor) Spitfires, (Kitchener) Rangers, and (London) Knights. Year in and year out, these teams are competitive because they draft well (or have the resources to draft well), utilize the import draft, and have management that is competitive. Doesn’t hurt that they draw well either.

As for the Memorial Cup, it will be really interesting to see by season’s end, who the real contenders and pretenders are. Right now the Owen Sound Attack and Saginaw Spirit are looking REALLY good because everything is working for them. Kitchener is also someone who could really make a push, if they can work out their consistency issues. From the East, the IceDogs and 67’s look like the teams who could push the Majors (how angry would the West be if two Eastern Conference teams made the Memorial Cup?)

B2011DW: Matt Puempel is the reigning CHL Rookie of the Year, but there appears to be some divergent opinions on him this year. Are you hearing some of the same things, and where do you see him stacking up against his peers in the OHL draft class this year?

B. Otten: I think right now everyone still sees Puempel as a top player from the OHL for this draft. I did a recent poll of some of the media members of the OHL and none of them had him outside of the top five (from the OHL). I think the biggest problem with Puempel is that he isn’t a flashy guy. When you’re going up against so many good players from this crop, we’re starting to see people focus in on more complete players (Landeskog, Saad, Alexander Khokhlachev) or players with more flash and dash (Lucas Lessio, Strome). This isn’t a knock on Puempel, but he’s kind of one of those guys who you don’t really notice on the ice, until he finishes the game with a hat trick. He’s an opportunist and a pure goal scorer, but he relies on his hockey IQ to put himself in good position for scoring opportunities. He’s not Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. Puempel’s a great player in his own right, I think some people would just like to see him round out the rest of his game more.

B2011DW: Who are some of the players this year who have exceeded expectations in your mind, and look like they could be on their way to 1st- or high 2nd-round billing in Minnesota?

B. Otten: You saw that Ryan Strome goal the other night. This was an eye opener for a lot of people, but he does these sort of things on a nightly basis (maybe not quite as amazing, but you get my drift). If he keeps producing at the clip he is, I’ll be really surprised if he isn’t garnering attention for the top 10 (never mind the late first or high 2nd). Outside of Strome, I think you’re probably looking at Vincent Trocheck and Shane Prince. Trocheck is the best player from this draft no one is talking about. He’s the complete package (minus elite size). Great speed, hustle, tenacity, skill and he’s a huge part of why the Spirit have been so good this year. But I think because he plays in Saginaw (and he’s American), he’s not getting his due respect from the OHL media. Prince has definitely exceeded expectations offensively this year, but he is a late 1992 and I worry about the type of role he could play in the NHL.

B2011DW: Who are some of the underachievers that you expected more from but who have not delivered on some of the promise they showed last year?

B. Otten: The two that immediately come to mind are Brett Ritchie and Austen Brassard. Two big power forwards who I expected to come out guns a blazing this year (since both are surrounded by more talent this year). But neither is scoring or dominating enough physically to warrant serious consideration for the first round at this point. I think the other guy who’s really disappointed me with his production is Kingston’s Alan Quine. A lot of talent offensively, but he still looks too soft and weak to put up points on a consistent basis.

B2011DW: Who are some of the guys you see flying under the radar right now?

B. Otten: I mentioned Trocheck in Saginaw. How about Stuart Percy and Mark Scheifele? Percy is just a rock solid two way guy who’s going to get a lot of exposure playing for Mississauga in the Memorial Cup. And Scheifele is a rangy playmaking center with Barrie who’s putting up some impressive point totals in his rookie season. Another name to throw into the ring for this question would probably be Sarnia’s Brandon Francisco. Part of it might be because half the world thinks he’s eligible for 2012 (when he’s actually eligible this year). He’s also getting moderately overshadowed by (Nail) Yakupov and (Alex) Galchenyuk. Francisco is undersized, but he’s got elite vision, speed and hands and has a lot of offensive potential moving forward. Also, keep an eye out for Saginaw goaltender Tadeas Galansky. He’s a late 1992, but he’s been great in the OHL so far and could be the top rated goaltender from the league this year.

B2011DW: Finally-- the imports this season. Is this one of the best groups of Europeans you've seen in the OHL as a whole/competing at the same time that you've seen in a while? How much do you think Alex Burmistrov's high selection last summer may have had to do with guys like Alex Kokhlachev and Andrey Pedan coming over from Russia this season?

B. Otten: Definitely the best group of imports I can ever remember. So many guys making a big impact (too many to name). I think Burmistrov’s high selection last summer definitely had a lot to do with a significant number of Russian players coming over. We’ve heard so much about the whole KHL factor, that I think many teenagers want to prove to NHL clubs that they’re committed to coming to North America (and staying in North America), adjusting to North American hockey, and acclimatizing themselves with our culture.

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