The OHL has ruled the last three NHL Drafts. Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall—the last three No. 1 overall picks in the NHL Entry Draft—have all undergone their apprenticeship in the OHL before graduating to the pros. Of the nine players to be drafted in the top three at those drafts, eight played junior hockey in the OHL. Victor Hedman is the only exception in that group.
90 players have been first round picks in the last three drafts. 27 of those players were drafted out of the OHL, representing a full 30 percent of first round draftees.
Over that time, the OHL has offered variety as well as depth. No longer solely the factory of forwards, the OHL has offered top puck movers like Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan Ellis; physical monsters like Zach Bogosian and Erik Gudbranson; snipers like Stamkos, Hall and Jeff Skinner and cerebral centre men like Tyler Seguin and Matt Duchene.
So, who's up front this year? Is there an OHL grad who can follow in the footsteps of Stamkos, Tavares and Hall and have his name called first when the Entry Draft opens in June?
Mark Scheifele: I think Scheifele makes for a nice feel-good draft story. A lot of it mirrors what we saw with Ryan Johansen last year at the Draft.
He was drafted into Major Junior when he was much smaller and much thinner. He fell to around the 140-150 point in the OHL draft and then he took over as the top centre on a young team. But to me, Scheifele is closer to Ryan Martindale last year. He's got some good skill, but you'd like to see a guy of his size engage more. As scouts were fond of saying of Martindale last year, "He always seems to play well when I'm not there."
Daniel Catenacci: The former No. 1 overall pick in the OHL has some very obvious attributes. He's quick and he's very creative. He's not big and he never will be. There's room, I think, for Catenacci to carve out a pro role of something similar to Kris Versteeg. Both are smaller guys with a little swagger and great hands who have a tendency to over-handle the puck.
Vincent Trocheck: I have no doubt that Vincent Trocheck will, at some point, crack the NHL. Watching him in the OHL playoffs last year, I was struck immediately with how hard this kid works on every shift. Trocheck's puck pursuit is absolutely tremendous and he mixes it up physically. The kid works hard to make people forget his size.
Shane Prince: Prince and Catenacci are very similar prospects, with Prince the more chippy. The Ottawa 67s centre is getting his first real chance to perform in an offensive role during his OHL tenure and he is more than taking advantage of it. He's a capable penalty killer who can generate offence with his speed and hands. More than a few scouts, though, will question if the extent of his offensive explosion isn't perhaps a product of line-mates Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale.
Lucas Lessio: Lessio's saga this year only added to the intrigue of his OHL story to this point. Originally drafted by the Niagara Ice Dogs, Lessio committed to the University of Michigan and played last year for the St. Michael's Buzzers of Tier Two.
After ripping up Tier Two as a 16-year-old, Lessio started very slow. This was a kid that some compared to Rick Nash in his OHL Draft year. But the power forward has come around very well lately. With 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in his last eight games, Lessio's challenge in the second half will be to develop consistency.
ISS Rank: 19th
Central Scouting Rank: 17th
OHL Team: London Knights
Rundown: The import centre for the Knights has turned some heads since he's come over to North America. Namestnikov is a very effective puck possession forward. A capable puck distributor and finisher, he continues to work on his release to improve his finish for the pro game.
Namestnikov has largely escaped blame for London's floundering mediocrity this season. The reasons for that are simple to understand. As a first year import, Namestnikov has to be allowed some time to adjust to the speed and ice surface.
With Daniel Erlich, Michael D'Orazio and Chris DeSousa being shipped out at the deadline, it's unlikely the Knights offence will improve in the second half. Namestnikov will have to find a way to up his game and show that he can put up the numbers without the supporting cast.
ISS Rank: Outside the Top 30
CSB Rank: 18th
OHL Team: Oshawa Generals
Rundown: Some have called Jenner the ultimate second line centre prospect. He's big enough, a good enough skater, gritty and exhibits just enough hockey sense to be an offensive puck distributor while still willing to go to the dirty areas to score. He's one of Oshawa's big three prospects for this draft. His intangibles as a leader and his safe project-ability make him a likely NHLer.
My concern is that I don't see that kind of mile high ceiling with Jenner. A lot of teams like to try and hit that home run with a first round pick. That Jenner doesn't have the overwhelming offensive talent of others on this list could very well cause him to fall.
ISS Rank: 14th
Central Scouting Rank: 45th
OHL Team: Windsor Spitfires
Rundown: Khokhlachev is a puck magician. His crafty hands, size and quick wrist make for an intriguing combination that is sure to highlight the somewhat nebulous nature of this draft.
Scouts and fans are never really sure what to do with small centres. Khokhlachev works hard not to let his size be a factor. He's got a game-breaking set of hands and his ability to see the ice and open up lanes can often preclude his size from entering into the equation.
But do not mistake small for soft. The kid is willing to take a hit to make a play. He's got the ceiling to be higher, but the ability to meet that potential is less than for others.
ISS Rank: Outside the Top 30
Central Scouting Rank: 20th
OHL Team: Oshawa Generals
Rundown: Jensen is a great example of pure raw tools. He's got great size, is a very strong skater with great offensive instincts and will engage physically. Of course, we were all saying the same thing about Evgeny Grachev (NYR) when he played for the Brampton Battalion.
Jensen is a 17-year-old player with all these tools and great potential. I'm given toward a bias when it comes to big, skilled forwards. Jensen has the ability to become a significant NHL forward if he can bring these tools at the pro level. In a game without obstruction, a player of Jensen's size, mobility and creativity has the ability to be a 30 goal, 60 point forward.
ISS Rank: Ninth
Central Scouting Rank: 19th
OHL Team: Niagara Ice Dogs
Rundown: Ryan Strome is the kind of cerebral centre that the OHL has become known for in the last few drafts. He's a player very much in the pattern of Matt Duchene or Tyler Seguin. He doesn't quite have Duchene's electric finish or Seguin's high-end hockey sense, but he's very much the kind of centre that teams crave for their prospect pool.
I like Strome's hockey sense and I love his hands, but while I'm willing to believe he'll be a capable offensive player at the pro level, I'm not sold on Strome as a game-breaking offensive talent. He's reliable, he's physical enough, but I don't see him having the kind of game-breaking skill where he'd deserve to go higher.
ISS Rank: 12th
Central Scouting Rank: 29th
OHL Team: Peterborough Petes
Rundown: Matt Puempel is the biggest reason the Peterborough Petes are still in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The left winger is a pure sniper. He's capable of finding seems in coverage, or knowing where the puck is going to come out of a scrum and instinctively being there to grab it. This is not to knock Puempel's own willingness to do the dirty work in traffic, he certainly does.
Like Jeff Skinner last year though, Puempel has an uncanny ability to just score goals. He's got the shot that allows him to pick corners, the hands that allow him to beat defenders one on one and a frame to absorb punishment when he has to score from high traffic areas. He'll score 40, maybe 45 this year in the OHL and should be a regular 30 goal man in the NHL.
ISS Rank: Fifth
Central Scouting Rank: Eighth
OHL Team: Saginaw Spirit
Rundown: Saad was Saginaw's biggest acquisition this season. The goal scoring power forward has been a beast on left wing for the Spirit since graduating from the US National Team program last year. Saad's biggest attributes are his size and his finish. He protects the puck very well and involves himself in traffic areas in front of the net and along the wall.
The biggest criticism of him is, in spite of the fact that he is a big kid, he doesn't use his size to his advantage as often as he should. This raises one of the drafts favourite debates between size and snarl. A player at 6' can do more damage than one at 6'4" through sheer force of will. It's that will that separates true power forwards from the more passive "big body" forwards. It's there that Saad has work to do.
ISS Rank: 11th
Central Scouting Rank: Seventh
OHL Team: Niagara Ice Dogs
Rundown: Like Nicklas Jensen further down this list, Hamilton is pure raw tools. The package is certainly there for a franchise NHL player. Blessed with great size and bloodlines—both his parents are Canadian Olympians—Hamilton is a big, rangy defenseman who's just beginning to tap his offensive upside.
He moves well enough that he can be effective both as a shutdown defenseman against shifty forwards and as a part of the regular power-play unit. His developing puck skill will help at both ends of the ice too. He's a capable physical presence, but he's not going to be a physically punishing defender like Erik Gudbranson or Zach Bogosian, who came out of the OHL East before him.
ISS Rank: Sixth
Central Scouting Rank: 10th
OHL Team: Kitchener Rangers
Rundown: Ryan Murphy gets a lot of comparisons to Ryan Ellis. Those should really stop. Yes, they're small defensemen. But Hal Gill and Chris Pronger are both big defensemen and that doesn't make them comparable. Murphy's style is more in line with a Dan Boyle or Phil Housley as opposed to Ellis, who is definitely more of a Brian Rafalski.
Murphy's a puck rusher and an elite skater who arguably has the best hands in the draft, in spite of the fact that he's a defenseman. He's a mile more physical than Ellis. Just ask Brayden Schenn or Garret Wilson, who've both been recipients of one of Murphy's open ice hip checks in recent weeks. Murphy and Ellis do have one big thing in common aside from their size, and that is the ability to launch absolute bombs from the point.
There are scouts who think we could be dealing a generational offensive talent from the blue line here.
ISS Rank: Fourth
Central Scouting Rank: First
OHL Team: Kitchener Rangers
Rundown: People were unsure of Landeskog's offensive ceiling at the start of the season. They no longer are. His coach, Steve Spott, calls him the Swedish Mike Richards, and I've heard scouts call him the Swedish Iginla. Landeskog himself lists both the aforementioned players, as well as Peter Forsberg as having an impact on his offensive style.
This kid could be the franchise.
He's a big, rugged winger who, like Iginla, is primarily a goal scorer. He's a tough character who throws big open ice hits, drops the gloves in defence of his teammates and can be counted on to score the big goal. He's an academic off the ice who speaks fluent English and actually out-performs his Canadian teammates in school. He's also the kind of player who will throw his body in front of a shot to protect a one goal lead in the dying seconds of a game.