Last year, seven of the top 10 draft picks — including the first four and 11 first-rounders overall — were selected out of the OHL. While a repeat of last year’s record-setting haul may be a little much too expect, at least a few players have set themselves up nicely for the 2009 NHL draft.
1. John Tavares, C, London Knights
Tavares, recently traded to the Knights, is hoping to be the 87th player drafted from London’s OHL franchise. Of course, the position he’d rather be in is third — as in the third Knight to be selected first overall.
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Pat Kane (2007) and Rick Nash (2002), Tavares has turned in a strong performance in what could be his final season in the junior ranks. The Oakville, ON native has long been touted as the "Next One" in hockey circles — especially since joining the Oshawa Generals as an exceptional player in 2005-06.
That year he lit up the OHL with 45 goals and 77 points in just 65 games as a 15-year-old. He’s only been getting better since. His second season he scored 72 goals en route to 134 points in 67 games. And last year was considered a down year for the 6’0 center. In a season tainted by a change of representation and a failed bid at early entry into the NHL entry draft, Tavares dropped to 118 points in 59 games. Yet that two-point-per-game total was equal to his superlative 2006-07 season.
The whispers started about a potential slip in Tavares’ draft status. Pundits who long sang his superlatives were not starting to look for flaws in his game — minor issues that became magnified in lieu of penning the same story over and over. Challenged for the top spot in a draft that had long been ceded to him, Tavares responded — especially in leading Canada to gold at the World Junior Championships.
Culminating in a victory of Sweden — and his rival for the top spot Victor Hedman — Tavares shared the tournament lead in scoring, was named MVP, and made his claim to regain that lofty status. Central Scouting has him ranked as the No. 1 North American prospect to Hedman’s top-European ranking.
After scoring 54 points in 32 games with an less-than-stellar Generals squad this season, the long-rumored trade to the London Knights was finally culminated — and the green and gold seems to suit Tavares just fine. In his first match, he scored one goal and assisted on two others. And the Knights are fully loaded to make a long foray into the playoffs — one which they hope will culminate in a second Memorial Cup for the team, and a first for their newest star.
Of course, if by chance he falls to second behind Hedman, Tavares has another Knight to emulate. In 1987, a London product was the first and only Knight to be drafted with the second overall selection. The team was New Jersey — and the player was Brendan Shanahan, who blazed an impressive trail himself.
(First overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
2. Matt Duchene, C, Brampton Battalion
No matter which one-two permutation of Tavares/Hedman comes to bear in June, you could lay dollars to doughnuts that Matt Duchene will be happily snapped up by whichever team is drafting third. While Duchene failed to make the Canadian World Junior squad, he proved during that period that he was a dominant player.
Playing without teammates Cody Hodgson and Evgeny Grachev — both of whom made their respective squad’s national teams — the Haliburton, ON native picked up the slack left in their wake. In the five games without Brampton’s dynamic duo, he accounted for 10 points, including four goals — a point-per-game pace that was greater than what he had put forth with his talented teammates.
Duchene has scored 20 goals and added 30 assists this year in 32 games. His point totals are already equal to those of last year — in half the games. Having just turned 18, Duchene has scored 50 goals and added 50 assists — a balanced total that’s reflective of his balanced game. He has no obvious weaknesses offensively and he’s extremely responsible defensively, to which his plus-17 rating is a testament.
(Second overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
3. Nazem Kadri, C, London Knights
If history repeats, then Kadri would hope to be the Sam Gagner to Tavares’ Pat Kane. In 2007, Gagner followed his London Knights’ teammate to the podium just five selections later as the sixth-overall selection by the Edmonton Oilers.
Kadri came over in the off-season from Kitchener as a part of the Steve Mason trade. And the hometown boy has made good. In 30 games with the Knights this season, Kadri has scored 16 goals and added 31 assists. A broken jaw kept him out of not only the London lineup for a number of games, but hampered his ability to make Team Canada, as he was a late cut having just recuperated in time for the selection camp.
Those totals far outweigh his production back in Kitchener, but the post-season experience he gained there — including last year’s run during Kitchener’s hosting of the Memorial Cup — will be invaluable this year, and long into Kadri’s career. The 6’0 center is a safe bet to go in the top 10 of the entry draft, and could sneak into the top five if there’s a team looking for an offensive spark plug.
(11th overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
4. Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor Spitfires
Ellis’ proficiency on the power play prompted Team Canada head coach to make the unique decision to carry eight defensemen on the club, so that he could make use of the then-17-year-old’s prodigious talents. Ellis celebrated his 18th birthday by defeating Russia on Jan. 3, 2009 to earn a berth in the gold-medal game. Not overly large at 5’9, Ellis has come up huge offensively with stellar production from the blueline.
As a rookie last year in Windsor, Ellis scored 15 goals and added 43 assists. And although Windsor fell short in the playoffs, Ellis proved that he was ready for the pressure-packed stage, by scoring two goals and adding three assists in five games. This year, he’s picked up where he left off and has almost surpassed his point totals from last year. His 16 goals and 51 points in 33 games so far are a big reason why Windsor has been so dominant and has established a firm foothold in the upper echelon of the national rankings.
Ellis also performed well at the World Juniors, scoring once and adding six assists in six games, and finishing with a plus-six rating.
Best of all, Ellis isn’t just talented on the ice — he’s also got the brains to match his physical skills. In addition to being named to the OHL’s all-rookie team last year, the Freelton, ON native earned the league’s Scholastic Player of the Year award.
(15th overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
5. Calvin deHaan, D, Oshawa Generals
It’s a toss-up between whether deHaan or Ellis will be the most productive NHLer. At 6’0, deHaan has slightly more size than Ellis, but perhaps not as much offensive potential. That said, deHaan is a dynamic skater who has a proven ability to start the rush and keep the offensive flow going on offense.
Averaging almost a point per game over 41 games, the Carp, ON native has six goals and 34 assists. He’s got a heavy, accurate shot and is an effective component to a power play.
What may push deHaan higher up the rankings will be his play in light of the recent trade of Tavares. Should he continue his offensive production or even improve upon it, he could find himself among the top blueliners taken in the draft. And a good start to that display was his recent performance at the Top Prospects’ skills competition, where he bested the aforementioned Duchene in the puck-control relay.
(38th overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
6. Peter Holland, C, Guelph Storm
Just turning 18 on Jan. 14, 2009, Holland has emerged as an offensive leader on the surprising Storm. Despite the loss of Drew Doughty, the Guelph club has remained surprisingly competitive and the play of the 6’2 center is a large part of their success.
In 44 games, he’s at an almost point-per-game clip, with 20 goals and 22 assists. He’s struggled with consistent play, but has weathered the storm — no pun intended — of the heightened offensive expectations placed upon his young shoulders.
(Ninth overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
7. Edward Pasquale, G, Saginaw Spirit
Practice makes perfect — and Pasquale certainly has had plenty of opportunity to stop rubber. He leads the OHL in shots against, having faced 1,148 in 39 games. Pasquale has proven you can have both quantity and quality as he’s posted a .913 save percentage and 2.81 GAA and a 22-14-3 record.
At 6’2 and over 215 pounds, Pasquale has the size to be successful and he’s established himself as the consensus No. 1 goaltending prospect in the OHL.
(First overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American goalies)
8. Zach Kassian, RW, Peterborough Petes
There haven’t been too many bright points in the Petes’ season to date, but the rugged forward from LaSalle, ON has certainly been a shining light. He’s got the size to be a stellar power forward in the future and he’s shown the hands that can augment his efficacy in that role.
In 37 games, Kassian has scored 40 points, including 16 goals. He’s also shown a willingness to mix it up with 87 PIMs — although taking poor penalties has plagued him throughout the season.
On a weak Petes team, Kassian has displayed tremendous growth as he’s almost doubled his season’s point totals from last year. He’s also cemented his reputation as one of the OHL’s toughest players — and has been a noted proponent of fighting in the league.
(24th overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
9. Ryan O’Reilly, C, Erie Otters
At 6’0, 205 pounds, the Varna, ON native is solidly built and has shown solid offensive play. And after a slow start to the season, he’s started to pick up the pace — and put the puck in the net.
What’s been encouraging for O’Reilly is that despite an early season goal-scoring drought — he’s now scored nine in 42 games — he was still able to create offensive opportunities for his fellow teammates. He has 33 assists — a total that matches his season’s total from last season — through half a season.
(35th overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
10. Marcus Foligno, C, Sudbury Wolves
Foligno has the bloodlines — his father is a former NHLer and his brother, and former Wolves player, is a current NHLer. This year, he’s shown a Foligno trait — grittiness and an ability to put the puck in the net at key opportunities.
Although Foligno will never be a top-flight goal scorer (seven in 39 games to date), he has the potential to be a welcome addition to any NHL club as the type of gritty forward that every needs to be successful. He has shown that he’s fully comfortable doing the dirty work and the little jobs that are required to make others successful. And because of that grit and his heart, his draft status could be higher than his talent may warrant.
(98th overall in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters)
Casey Cizikas, F, Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors
Taylor Doherty, D, Kingston Frontenacs
Ethan Werek, Kingston Frontenacs
Alex Hutchings, C, Barrie Colts
Michael Latta, F, Ottawa 67s
Colton Kennedy, C, Sarnia Sting