By Tom Hunter (@)
When it comes to the NHL Entry Draft, the past few years have been filled with high-end talent out of the OHL. While you won’t see the same type of star potential coming out of Ontario this season, there is a lot of talent – something that is evident by how OHL-heavy this year’s CHL Top Prospects game is.
Both Team Orr and Team Cherry will be filled by players from the OHL, many of which will hear their names called within the first two rounds of the draft in June.
Matthew Strome – Hamilton Bulldogs (LW) – Consensus Ranking: 24
The youngest of the Strome brothers, Matthew is a power forward that plays a different style of game from his brothers. He plays a very physical game and uses his size to his advantage whenever possible – whether it be in front of the net or in the corners.
He doesn’t skate as well as his brothers and that is going to be the major issue for him as he tries to develop into an NHL player. He has average foot speed – at best – and will need to drastically improve in order to fit into the quick-paced game at the next level. That’s not to say he can’t – Dylan has improved his skating drastically since being drafted by Arizona so we shouldn’t bet against his younger brother doing the same.
Strome likes to play down low and work the cycle. He’s got a good shot and is pretty effective when setting up for the one-timer on the powerplay.
He is currently being rated as a late first-round draft pick, but his size and pedigree could lead to certain GMs valuing him a little higher. Monday night will be his chance to show just how his skating stands up against the best players in his draft class. If he can keep up, it could be a good sign for his draft stock.
Morgan Frost – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (C) – Consensus Ranking: 53
Frost is a highly intelligent center who shows great puck control and poise that helps to maximize his line’s scoring chances. Playing down in a deep Greyhounds lineup during his rookie season, he had only 27 points in 65 games. When given a bigger role this year, Frost has shown a much greater ability to contribute offensively.
He is a lot more effective than he is flashy. Frost won’t wow you with highlight real shifts, but more often than not, his name will be on the score sheet at the end of the game.
Frost is still very slight so playing center might be an issue for him going forward. He’s a good back checker, but when lining up against bigger players, it’s easy to see him getting overpowered in all three zones.
He’s the kind of player teams will draft in the late second or third round with the intention of stashing him in junior for a while before ever making any sort of judgment on what he is as a prospect.
Nate Schnarr – Guelph Strom – Consensus Ranking: 47
Schnarr is only in his rookie season with Guelph and has a long way to go in his hockey development. He is a big centerman who skates pretty well for being 6’3 and while he doesn’t look like a burner out there, Schnarr has a long, fluid stride that helps him get around the ice at above average speed.
He is well above average when it comes to puck skills and when you combine them with his ability to use his size to protect the puck, Schnarr becomes almost impossible to prevent from getting a scoring chance off the rush. He has a very good shot and should become a high-end goal scorer later in his junior career.
Schnarr’s biggest problems are his consistency and lack of awareness in his own end. Two things that will need to be improved upon.
Sasha Chmelevski – Ottawa 67’s (C) – Consensus Ranking: 32
The pride of Huntington Beach Caolifornia, Alexander Chmelevski is a very responsible two-way center that has tremendous work ethic in all three zones.
He has great speed and is very dangerous off the rush. Chmelevski has a tendency to make defenders look foolish when breaking in one-on-one. He’s got a very good shot and with 17 goals so far this season, he has shown this season that he is more than the playmaker some scouts thought he was.
He’ll need to get stronger but you can see that Chmelevski definitely has NHL talent. There’s a very good chance he can sneak into the first round of the draft.
Alex Forementon – London Knights (LW) – Consensus Ranking: 45
He plays on the London Knights so you know he’s good. Formenton is another OHL rookie that is looking to make a name for himself among the best prospect in the draft.
Born in mid-September, Formenton is going to be one of the youngest players in the draft – and he started the season playing like it. In his first months in the OHL, Formenton was playing down in the lineup and you could tell that he was spending most of his time just trying to get used to the caliber of junior hockey.
He is a very strong skater with an explosive first step. Formenton has good puck skills and the ability to maintain possession at top speed creating. H is an aggressive player that works well in the high traffic areas and will only get better as he grows.
Formenton has a ton of maturing to do physically. At less than 160lbs, he has a very thing 6’1 frame and he will need to find the balance between getting stronger while not losing his quickness as he gains weight.
He has moved up draft boards quickly and could end up as a very early second round pick – especially for a team that subscribes to the late birthday theory.
Nic Hague – Mississauga Steelheads (LD) – Consensus Ranking: 20
Hague is a huge defenseman with a cannon from the blue line. He moves well for a guy who is 6’6 and plays a two-way game that will have general managers drooling on draft day. If someone traded up to draft Logan Stanley at #18, it’s not hard to picture the same being done for Hague in the top-10.
Conor Timmins – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (RD) – Consensus Ranking: 46
Timmins is a guy that is probably a little undervalued in this draft class. After putting up only 13 points in his rookie season, he has taken a huge leap forward this year with 38 points in his first 46 games.
In December, Hounds head coach Drew Bannister had glowing praise for Timmins: “He has been our most consistent defenseman since day 1 of the season. He’s been outstanding at times and very good at others. There have been very few nights when he hasn’t played well”
Consistency is always something that alludes young defenders, so it is a great sign that his head coach views Timmins in this way. He is a well-rounded defender that has taken a huge lead in his development due in large part to improved skating. He plays with a lot of intensity, which helps wins battles in his own end.
Timmins shows tremendous control and patience with the puck while the play develops, something that allows him to succeed as the quarterback of the top powerplay unit.
He likely won’t sneak into the first round – but maybe he should. Timmins is a guy that will end up being the top defensive prospect in an NHL organization very soon.
Markus Phillips – Owen Sound Attack (LD) – Consensus Ranking: 39
Phillips is another defenseman that has taken a big step in his development this season and is one of the key reasons why Owen Sound has been so good this year. After being named captain of Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Phillips leapt into this season showing he is ready to be seen as a top prospect.
He isn’t overly tall (5’11), but he’s a very strong and solid player who has very good mobility that allows him to close gaps and overcome a shorter reach.
Phillips is a very good all-around defenseman that can quarterback your second powerplay until while also being one of your top penalty killers. There isn’t one aspect of his game that stands out either negatively or positively – much like former Erie Otter Travis Dermott.
Eemeli Rasanen – Kingston Frontenacs (RD) – Consensus Ranking: n/a
A first-year import, Rasanen is a huge kid who plays like it. At nearly 6’7″, the young Finn knows that his body is his biggest asset and plays the game accordingly.
He’s having a decent season adapting to North American hockey and has shown clear signs of improvement. Rasanen is going to be a kid that is drafted as a long-term project. He’ll never be accused of being an offensive threat but he’s not a liability with the puck either.
Rasanen came over to the OHL to prove that he is worthy of being drafted into the NHL – he has done that while at the same time overtaking Jacob Paquette as the best draft eligible defender on Kingston.
Jacob Paquette – Kingston Frontenacs (LD) – Consensus Ranking: n/a
Speaking of Paquette, he is the final defenseman on Team Orr and while having a bit of a disappointing season, he likely got invited to the Top Prospects game thanks to the flashes of intriguing talent he’s shown over the past few years.
After being the 31st overall selection in the OHL draft, Paquette had a very good rookie season – playing in the top-4 on a very good Kingston team. This season, however, Paquette has not made the improvements you would expect from a top prospect.
In fairness, Paquette has missed time with injury and his season has been slowed as a result. He’s a good two-way defender with a very good first pass and NHL size.
Monday night will be huge for Paquette as he will look to show that his game is all the way back and that he could turn into a steal in the middle rounds of the draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets selected in the third round, only to have a breakout draft +1 season.
Michael DiPietro – Windsor Spitfires (G) – Consensus Ranking: 42
As the top rated goalie in the OHL, DiPietro will look to show he can stand tall against the best of his peers.
The knock against DiPietro is going to be that he’s small. He’s only 6-feet tall, and in today’s NHL, that’s already a strike against him for many coaches and scouts.
DiPietro has 5 shutouts through his first 34 games of the season and has a very steady .925 goals against average, playing behind a very inconsistent Windsor team. Ranked 7th among North American goalies by NHL Central Scouting, DiPietro is probably better than this ranking would indicate. He’s not as good as Jake Oettinger but he’s definitely one of the top guys in the draft – talent wise.
He’ll likely slip into the later rounds of the draft because the second tier of goalies usually do and he already has the size bias against him.
Other Participants in the Top Prospects Game