The OHL and the NHL Draft: Round 4
On to the writeup!
Matia Marcantuoni – Pittsburgh Penguins – 92nd Overall
Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – Centre – 5’11″ – 193 – Feb. 22, 1994
If someone told me that Matia Marcantuoni would fall out of the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft at the start of the season, I would have really questioned the judgment of that person. Heading into the year, I truly believed that Marcantuoni had the potential to be a top 10 selection, due to his high end skill, his shot and his NHL mobility. One big question that most had about him (and one I mentioned in my august top 10 OHL players to watch article on Future Considerations) was his health. Heading into the season, Marcantuoni had played only 42 games in his rookie year in Kitchener, and needed to prove he could play a full year without getting hurt to ensure his high draft stock. Sadly for Marcantuoni, the opposite happened. He suffered a concussion at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka tournament, while also suffered some upper body injuries that caused the Kitchener forward to play just 24 this year. As a player, Marcantuoni has high end potential. He may be the best pure skater in the OHL, and from what I have been told, could be one of the best among draft eligible players. He has an NHL level shot with a very quick release. His biggest issues at this point appear to be a lack of hockey sense, as well as an inability to stay healthy. If he can get stronger in the offseason, work on building up his body, he has a chance to be the best value pick in this draft. Its tough to judge a players development when he has only played a total of 66 games over two years, but I have no doubt that if he had stayed healthy over the past year, he would have been selected much, much higher then 92nd overall. Nice high reward pick for the Penguins.
Brady Vail – Montreal Canadiens – 94th Overall
Windsor Spitfires (OHL) – Centre – 6’0″ – 195 – Mar. 11, 1994
If there was one player that really transformed his game in the past 12 months, its Brady Vail of the Windsor Spitfires. Coming off of a rather pedestrian (yet expected) rookie season in Windsor, he did not look like a player who was going to meet the high projections that I had for him as a 15 year old playing for Waterloo of the USHL. Heading into this year, Vail played moved to centre for the first time since I have seen him, and thrived right away. One of the things that stood out immediately was his conditioning. He looked like he was in great shape vs. where he was the previous year, and it really helped his overall game. He also played with a much higher confidence level, showing more poise with the puck and an ability to make stronger, quicker decisions in the offensive zone. He always brought a high complete level, and really turned himself into a smart two way centre, which was not what he was projected as at a younger age. He still has his issues to work on, he lacks a secondary level of mobility and his first few steps, his explosiveness and acceleration still need work. He doesn’t have a strong shot and needs to work on increasing the strength of his shot, while improving his release and getting the puck off of his stick quicker. All that said, I really came away impressed with what Vail did this year, and was one of the more improved draft eligible players in the OHL this year.
Josh Anderson – Columbus Blue Jackets – 95th Overall
London Knights – Right Wing – 6’1″ – 189 – May 7, 1994
Josh Anderson has an interesting storey behind him. Originally passed over in the 2010 OHL Draft, Anderson was signed by the London Knights this summer after a fantastic season in Burlington playing Midget AAA hockey for the Eagles. Heading into this season he was a bit of an unknown, and was not expected to be a key contributor for the Knights. About half way through the season, things really seemed to click for Anderson, as he really started to turn the corner in his development. He really started see the results of his work on his mobility, as he really improved his first few strides and maximizing his skating ability. He showed improved aggression on the forecheck, and made life difficult on opposition defenceman. He was strong in corners and on the cycle, working the puck along the boards into open areas of the ice. He still has some room to grow with his puck skills and his ability to make skilled plays at a higher speed, however even his puck skills have really come along this year. What really intrigues me is his high potential level. Consider the fact that 2 years ago, he was not even on the OHL’s radar, and now he has transformed his game to such a point that he now has a legitimate shot at an NHL contract. If he has come this far playing 4th line on the Knights, imagine how far he may get once he starts playing a more active role in the team’s offense. Once he gets powerplay opportunities, once he is on the ice for 20 minutes a night, wh should thrive. He has a long way to go still, but you have to love the player that he can one day become.
Ben Thomson – New Jersey Devils – 96th Overall
Kitchener Rangers – Left Wing – 6’3″ – 205 – Jan. 16, 1993
Thomson is a player who has always shown a high potential level. Dating back to his days in the Mississauga Reps, he was always a player who you could see become a high end north to south forward, but one that could take a few years to meet that high potential. In his first two season in Kitchener, he showed some good work ethic and compete levels, however really struggled with the pace of the game, and did not adjust as quickly offensively as one could have expected. This year he seemed to finally take that initial step forward. He showed some good growth with his skill level, and a little better finish around the net. He showed improvement in his mobility and agility, and looked to be much more confident hockey player. What stood out, (and always has since he signed with the Rangers), was his aggressiveness and willingness to play a very strong physical game. He is a player who knows his role, and is willing to play it. He always is aggressive on the forecheck, displays good board play, and has the ability to impact that game from a physical standpoint. He still has areas in his game that he has to improve on. His skating is still an issue, specifically his east to west lateral mobility, his overall puck skills and his ability to make strong, crisp passes at a higher speed, as well as his overall finishing skills. He is no doubt a work in progress, but one that could carve out a role as an aggressive forward who plays a depth role at the next level. The 2012-2013 season will be important, as he needs to show that last years progression was just the start, not the end of his development as a hockey player.
Gemel Smith – Dallas Stars – 104th Overall
Owen Sound Attack – Centre – 5’10″ – 164 – Apr. 16, 1994
There may not be a harder worker in the OHL then Gemel Smith. Everywhere that he has gotten in the past few years is due to his high work ethic and his willingness to do whatever it takes. Dating back to his North York Ranger days, he has always relied on his combination of high-end skating abilities and his compete level. His skating is a huge asset to him, not only does he skate well with the puck, but he has that elusive ‘second level’ of skating that so many of his peers seem to struggle with. He does not slow down with the puck, and shows some strong vision with the puck in the offensive zone. He is not the most elusive one on one player, but is effective at using his speed to force opposition defenceman to take a poor line at him. He is strong at taking the puck wide, driving the net and assessing his options, either taking the puck to the net or finding a teammate in an open seam. He has some room to grow with his strength, and his individual puck skills are not high end, but given the complete level, and given the work ethic that he has, I don’t doubt he will work on his weaknesses.
Andreas Athanasiou – Detroit Red Wings – 110th Overall
London Knights – Left Wing – 6’0″ – 177 – Aug. 6, 1994
Andreas Athanasiou at one point had the potential to be a top 30 selection for the NHL Draft. People where enamored with his top end puck skills, his skating and his raw offensive potential. Days after the draft, I often heard the question ‘why did he fall’, ‘Why was he drafted so low’, well, truthfully, I don’t really think he fell that far, if at all. There is no doubting the puck skills that he possesses, however he struggled all year with his decision making and strength, to the point that he was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs and memorial cup for the Knights. He would struggle with making the right decisions with the puck, skating the puck into traffic, instead of slowing down and allowing time for his teammates to catch up. He would rather go 100 km an hour at all times then to use his speed more strategically. He would routinely skate the puck into his own zone, try to skate through 2-3 people before loosing the puck, or giving up on it and causing a lazy turnover. I questioned his toughness all year, as he seemed to struggle in contact and would skate away from some defenders instead of physically engaging them. I still love the players raw skill and upside, he ust has along way to go before I can consider him a top prospect. If he gets more jam to his game, shows a willingness to mix it up phyiscally and while making much better decisions with the puck in the offensive zone, he could be a player, but as I mentioned, he has a long way to go.
Trevor Carrick – Carolina Hurricanes – 115th Overall
Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – 6’1′ – 171 – Jul. 4, 1994
Anyone who follows my blog or my twitter account will know my love of Trevor Carrick. I really loved his progression over the past three season, going from a player who looked to be a depth defenceman at the OHL level, to a player who become one of Mississauga’s top players in the second half of this season. To really appreciate how much he has developed over the past three years, you really need to take a look at the player who he was in Markham. Playing with a mid range GTHL team, Carrick was a player who displayed a lot of potential, but had a long, long way to go to hit that potential. Drafted by the Mississauga Majors, he played a year in Stouffville, where he really took huge strides in his poise, puck skills and confidence. He pushed himself to get better offensively, and produced more in the OJHL as a 16 year old then he did in the GTHL as a 15 year old, which is extremely rare. Given the graduation of players like Mark Canton and Brett Fleming, the Majors had a big hole in their defence, one that Carrick was more then ready to take hold. His first few months in the OHL he showed good positional play, strong mobility and agility, but didn’t really grow offensively.Once the calendar changed to December, it was almost as if a switch flipped in his head. Much like in the OJHL, he grew into his poise with the puck, developed some good confidence and started to push himself offensively. He still struggles with stretch passes at a higher speed, but the growth is there, which is the most important thing for me. He projects out as a player who has some room to grow, but one that I thought should have been a top 60 selection in the NHL draft, and one that I truly believe has the opportunity to be an NHL player at some point in time.