Clarke has been a player on the radar for a few years. Dating back to his days with the London Jr. Knights, he has always been a player that has impressed with his intelligence. Drafted in the second round of the OHL Draft by the Windsor Spitfires, Clarke was not an immediate OHL player. He spent his rookie year in junior hockey honing his skills with the London Nationals of the GOJHL, where he showed some strong depth. This season, he won a top 9 forward role with the Spitfires, and showed some flashes of impressive offensive potential. He was inconsistent in his first year in the OHL, however I do like his long term upside as a depth forward at the next level. He projects out as a smart two way centre, who should be a late third or high fourth round selection at the 2012 NHL draft.
Heading into the season, Ben Johnson was one of the more unheralded prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft. Signed by the Windsor Spitfires out of Calumet High School in Michigan, Johnson went undrafted in his first two years of eligibility, but mainly due to his lack of exposure. In his first year in the Ontario Hockey League he had the typical rookie struggles. He struggled with the pace of play and the lack of time, and was not as strong offensively as one would have assumed. Once the Calendar changed to 2012, things started to click for Johnson. He made quicker decisions, and was much more comfortable with the puck in both the neutral and offensive zone. He still has a while to go, but you have to like his long term upside as a smart two way forward with some untapped offensive upside.
Since a young age, Brady Vail has always been a highly thought of prospect. He moved from his home in Florida to play with the Detroit Compuware program. A 94 playing a year up, he still was one of the teams top prospects. From there, he moved to Waterloo of the USHL, where he played a depth role as a 15 year old in a U20 league. Drafted and signed by Windsor, Vail struggled a bit last season. He struggled with the pace of play, and like most 16 year olds took a while to really find his role with the Spitfires. This season, the Spitfires moved him to centre, and he finally was able to find his niche. He was more decisive with the puck then we has the previous season, and was able to start to dictate things in the offensive zone. He had a strong second OHL season, and I’m interested to see how he will improve moving forward. He projects out as an intelligent two-way centre with leadership abilities at the next level.
Ebert has had a bit of a fall from grace this year. Heading into the season Ebert was projected to be a top 10 selection by yours truly, based on his individual skill sets. When I first saw him down in Waterloo of the USHL, he was a player who stood out as one of the top players in the age group, and was an early candidate to be one of the top players drafted in the 2012 NHL Draft. His first year in Windsor he continued to display the upside that we saw in him, putting up some significant offensive totals for a rookie defenceman. At the start of the season, he seemed to be really struggling with his conditioning, and he did not improve on many of his abilities. For the first six months of his season he really struggled with his positional play, as well as his decision-making. He may have been trying to do to much, but also was not in good enough shape to achieve the results that he needed to. In the second half of the season he looked more like the Ebert of old, but the questions have been raised, and he needs to really understand what he struggles with and make it his goal over the next few years to fix them. If he does, then he could get back on track.
Johnson is one of my favorite players this season. His mobility and footwork are some of the most impressive that I have seen this year. At first he struggled a bit with the pace of play and the lack of time he had with the puck, but as he got use to the league, he showed why so many where high on him. He has good vision with the puck in both the offensive and neutral zones, and is elusive when skating the puck into the offensive zone. He has some room to grow with both his strength and positional play, but you have to like how he has progressed this year. He projects out as a good top 9 forward at the next level.
Michael Clarke / Centre / 5’11″ / 184 / Apr. 29, 1994
Clarke had a hot and cold season this year. At times he looked like a player who could be a slam-dunk top 60 player for the NHL draft, while other times he really struggled with his consistency/compete levels and his decision-making. He does show some solid skills. He is intelligent at both ends of the ice and shows some good positional play, and has some good puck skills. His biggest issues moving forward will be his mobility and agility, as well as his consistency levels. He can perform, but needs to prove that he can do it over a full season, not just small pockets of a season.
Chris Marchese / Left Wing / 6’0″ / 210 / Feb. 23, 1994
Marchese is a player who I expected more out of this season. At the start of the year, he showed a lack of compete and really seemed to be disinterested in Erie. After the trade to Windsor, he looked more engaged, but was still inconsistent. He seemed to struggle with his complete levels all year, and did not progress as I would have hoped. He does have some good potential. He is aggressive on the forecheck when he wants to be, and has a strong shot with a very quick release. He should be a mid to late round draft pick, but if he commits himself in the off season to improve his conditioning and his first few steps, and brings a much higher compete level next year, he had the potential to be a nice steal in the second half of the draft.
Ty Bilcke / Right Wing / 6’2″ / 217/ Apr. 23, 1994
Bilcke is an aggressive, physical forward who makes his make on his willingness to fight and play aggressive, physical hockey. He moves relatively well for a forward of his size, and always brings a high compete level. He has yet to show much in the way of offensive puck skills, and needs to prove that he is more then just a fighter if he wants to move forward to the next level.
Brady Vail / Centre / 6’1″ / 190 / Mar. 11, 1994
Vail is a player who really transformed his game this year. In his rookie year with the Spitfires, he played the wing and was a player who relied on his aggression and physical strength. He showed well, but he had trouble adjusting to the pace of play and the lack of space/time (as most rookies do). This year, he moved down the middle, and become one of the better two-way 17 year olds in the league. He was strong positionally in all three zones, and showed some improved vision and puck skills. He progressed well offensively, and showed some good development in his puck skills. He still has some room to grow with his mobility and footwork, as well as his shot, but I like his progression this season, and like what he could become. He is projected to be a smart two way centre at the next level with some good offensive upside.
John Bowen / Defence / 6’3″/ 220 / May. 3, 1994
Bowen is a physical, aggressive defenceman who is at his best in his own zone. He battles for pucks and always brings a high complete level. He is always willing to bring a high complete level, and is always willing to stick up for his teammates. He has not shown enough improvement in his mobility or puck skills to be on the draft radar at this time.
Brandon Devlin / Defence / 6’1″ / 190 / Apr. 27, 1994
Devlin is a smooth skating defenceman who split time between the Spitfires and the Barrie Colts. He shows good mobility and footwork, and is at his best skating the puck up the ice and reading the play. He likes to jump into the play and make things happen in the offensive zone. He is good on the powerplay and shows good poise with the puck. He can struggle with his positional play in all three zones. He has some good potential, and could be a late round draft selection of a team sees potential.
Nick Ebert / Defence / 6’1″ / 195 / May. 11, 1994
Ebert is another polarizing player for the 2012 NHL Draft. Heading into the season he was projected by many as a top 10 draft selection for the draft, but a mix of poor conditioning and some questionable decision making with the puck left him falling in many peoples eyes. In the second half of the year he showed more of what we expected out of him. He showed an ability to skate the puck up the ice and make smart passes. He was effective at taking the offensive blue line and reading the play. What he did struggle was his decision making process, and what he did with the puck. He would skate himself into tournovers, or wait to long to make a decision. He still has all the tools that you look for in an offensive defenceman, and I think most of his issues are coachable. He still has a high potential level, and is worth a second round draft pick in my books.