2000 Draft: OHL Prospect Report

By Bob Chery
As a follow-up to my November 26/99 report on the OHL’s draft-eligible
prospects, the schedule saw several of the top defencemen pass through the GTA
for a number of games versus the Battalion, Ice Dogs, and Majors in December
and early January. What follows is a more in-depth look at five of these prospects.

KURTIS FOSTER (Peterborough) — If it’s an offensive defenceman that you’re
looking for, this 6-5, 205-pound giant fits the bill. The lack of coordination one
expects to see from a youngster this size who has not yet grown comfortable
with his body is apparent, but not to the usual extent. Kurtis is a fluid skater and
puck-carrier while at the same time showing promise of further improvement. He’s
not TOTALLY fluid just yet, but that will come with time. The NHL comparison
at this juncture would be Kevin Hatcher. Of course it is hoped that Foster can be a
force in his own end of the rink as well as the offensive zone.

And this is the area where Foster requires the most improvement. Fortunately he is
well aware of that fact and is making the required efforts. His big stride allows him
to close a hole while skating backwards with one cross-over. The wing-span of his
poke-check also covers a lot of ice. It is the physical element of his game that needs
the most work. Early in the season he would engage opposing forwards with nothing
more than stick-checks. He is now beginning to apply the body more frequently.
His positioning needs a lot of work as forwards are not being tied-up effectively in
front of the net. Screens and deflections are still occurring. He needs to improve the
dynamics of footwork, balance and timing to properly leverage his size when
trying to knock down opposing players. He is not bringing much momentum to the
collision. 20 extra pounds and repetitions should minimize these weaknesses over
the next few years.

It is Foster’s offensive potential that has the scouts excited. He is not prone to
panic when pressured while having the puck. When the first pass isn’t there he’ll
comfortably hang onto it, wait for an outlet or carry it up-ice himself. He can
stick-handle in close quarters. He is a fluid skater with long strides that hide
deceptive speed. He has crisp, accurate passes, short or long. He possesses a big
shot from the point. He makes intelligent pinches although they are not that
numerous. He covers a lot of ice when returning back to the defensive zone after
an offensive foray.

His coaches have commented that Kurtis doesn’t yet trust his own abilities. When
he adds confidence to his package, the upside could be substantial.

TYLER HANCHUK (Brampton) — If it’s a big, strong crease-clearing defenceman
that you’re looking for, this 6-3, 210-pounder fits the bill. While Foster has the
potential to provide impact generating goals, Tyler has the potential to provide
impact preventing goals. He has displayed a physical thoroughness to his game
usually seen from 19 and 20 year-olds, not 17 year-olds.

Hanchuk does his best work on the penalty kill. He holds his position well, moves
screening forwards off to the side or outright knocks them down. He makes good
decisions as to when to leave the slot and pursue the puck along the boards. He is
a punishing hitter along the boards. In a nutshell, he’s an effective player in a
structured situation such as the penalty kill.

He is more prone to misjudgments 5-on-5 when he abandons the slot but doesn’t
get to the puck ahead of the forward, leading to scoring opportunities from the
spot he just vacated. He’s understandably not as adventurous while out on the PK,
so he’ll learn to pick his spots 5-on-5 as carefully as he does while playing a man
short.

His offensive limitations become apparent 5-on-5 where there is less structure and
more room for creativity. He does have trouble handling the puck at times in his
own zone, but it’s important to note that he doesn’t have hands of stone. He has
shown plenty of times an ability to make passes and carry the puck. Consistency is
the problem. He has trouble corralling bouncing pucks. He will have to bear down
and ensure that the puck gets out over the blue-line on a regular basis.

Tyler will get his repetitions on the offensive aspects of the game for the next few
years at this level, after which there won’t be much more improvement as he goes to
the next level to solidify his game as a stay-at-home blue-liner. The improvements
required from this point forward are minimal, and should be easily accomplished.
He’s certainly capable of providing the offensive basics expected from a defensive
defenceman, with room to spare.

ROTISLAV KLESLA (Brampton) — If it’s a two-way defenceman that you’re
looking for, this 6-2, 198-pounder fits the bill. To coin a phrase, this kid’s a
player. Shows hockey sense and a feel for the game beyond his years. He is
reliable in getting the puck out of his own end of the rink either with the first
pass or by carrying it. He likes to go down and block shots. It’s a lot of fun
to watch him get the puck along the boards. Time and time again a forechecking
forward will have Klesla on their radar screen, but Rotislav manages a last
second feint to slip or minimize the impact of the hit while still winning the
puck.

He is frequently partnered with Hanchuk in both 5-on-5 and penalty-killing
situations. He doesn’t clear the crease with the authority that Hanchuk does, and
although by no means shying away from the physical stuff, doesn’t look to have
the promise of physical thoroughness at the NHL level to the extent that Hanchuk
does. At this stage Klesla is the opposite of Tyler in that he is more creative on the
ice, but not as effective in a more structured formation such as the penalty-kill.

Offensively Klesla isn’t afraid to play aggressively by either joining the rush
or carrying the puck. He gets hauled down quite a bit and should draw more
penalties than he does. When he does make mistakes they tend to be when
he’s being more aggressive and taking chances, but even then he has the presence
of mind to keep his cool. A neutral zone turnover will be followed by running
a bit of interference with an opposing forward so that his defensive partner has
to contend with a 1-on-1 instead of a 2-on-1.

Klesla does not appear to have the offensive upside at the NHL level of a Foster,
or the stay-at-home potential of a Hanchuk. He looks to have the potential of a
two-dimensional defenceman without being dominant in any one facet.

At this stage Foster and Klesla look to be NHL 1st-round picks this year. For a
team that wants to obtain a physical presence for their blue-line, Hanchuk could
be targeted with a 2nd-round pick, while the 1st-rounder is allocated for another
player. All three will be on display at the Prospect’s Game February 2nd.

CHRIS EADE (North Bay) — This 6-2, 191-pounder is an offensive defenceman
trying to learn to play in his own end of the rink. His progress in that aspect of
the game is encouraging, but by all means there is still a lot of work to be done.
Although he’s not racking up penalty-minutes, he routinely plays the body in
front of the net. He doesn’t shy away from the physical stuff. His awareness is
improving whereby he’ll give up pursuing the puck and return to cover the slot if
he sees that a teammate will get to the puck first.

When he does get possession of the puck he can take a hit and stay on his feet.
His big problem is clearing the zone. Too many of his attempts along the boards
don’t make it past the blue-line. He makes at least one major gaffe per game by
either having a pass up the middle intercepted, losing the puck while trying to
carry it out, or attempting to step up for a hit, missing, and causing an odd-man
rush back the other way.

The limits of armchair scouting become apparent with Eade. He MIGHT have
trouble at this point with forwards coming down the wing with a head of steam
built up. The instances aren’t that numerous at the junior level, but at the NHL
level EVERY rush up ice will seem like a head of steam built up compared with
the junior game. It’s a very important factor and something that I noticed the last
time I watched him. I would like to be able to follow the Centennials around for
as many games as it takes to conclude one way or another whether it’s true, and
if so, does it look correctable or not. This will be something to watch for in the
2nd-half of the season.

Chris plays with a number of partners throughout the course of a game. 5-on-5
and during penalty kills he’s most often teamed with Rob Davison. He mans
the right-point with his right-hand shot during power-plays, but will move to the
left-side when double-shifted and Peter Reynolds, another right-hand shot joins
the PP. Eade looks equally comfortable on both sides.

The amount of ice-time Eade gets bodes well for his development. In a nutshell it
looks like he never had to pay a lot of attention to defensive details at the lower
levels. Offence is his strong-suit, and the ability and instincts he shows for that
facet of the game, coupled with his early season improvements thus far, suggests
that he’ll catch on rather quickly as to what needs to be done defensively as well.

DAN GROWDEN (Windsor) — Undoubtedly the one prospect with the largest
gulf between what I think of him and what CSB thinks of him. I’ll approach this
from the standpoint of what I like about him, and what I imagine the knocks to
be against him by Central Scouting, given that they rank him no better than the
28th best prospect in the OHL, and 120th among North American skaters.

PROS: An obviously gifted skater. This might be all that CSB sees in him, but
I’ll add that his passing is solid as well.

CONS: An offensive defenceman that isn’t producing offence. Smallish (6-0, 180)
A defensive liability. Doesn’t display much hockey sense. Gets knocked off his
feet too easily.

In Growden I see quite a bit of “raw materials” and very little in the way of
“finished goods”. The buzz-word here is Development with a capital D.

Spitfires’ coach Tom Webster has thus far given Dan the green-light to skate
which is very important moving forward. He jumps into the rush on a regular
basis because he has the speed to get back to his position afterwards. His passing
is good and he has shown some competence stick-handling, although I wouldn’t
classify it as great.

At the moment he displays “text-book” tendencies rather than displaying hockey
sense. When he joins the rush but doesn’t have the puck, he’ll go to the net.
Often that might not be the best thing to do. Perhaps trailing the forward to
receive a drop-pass would be more effective. Or trying a criss-cross to get the
opposing d-men crossed up. But repetition is an important part of development,
and as long as Webster provides Growden with the green light, the results
could come.

The last game I saw Dan play he got knocked down a lot. It’s not something
I had noticed in the past. I went back to check some games on tape and I didn’t
see that tendency. Perhaps it happens on a more regular basis that the scouts in
the field see. Nevertheless, some work with the weights should bulk him up to
where the knockdowns are reduced.

His defensive zone play needs to be upgraded, but the fortunes of this prospect
rest with his finding his offensive game. In recent years even the percentage of
2nd and 3rd-round picks that become regular NHLers is not that high. Growden
has world-class skating ability, a few other attributes, size that can be bulked
up, and a number of areas that will require further upgrading. All in all a better
starting point than many players ranked higher than him.

These five are not necessarily the BEST defencemen available for the NHL draft
from the OHL. I haven’t seen the Plymouth Whalers much this year and look
forward to seeing Libor Ustrnul and Jared Newman at the Prospect’s Game. I
hope to see something other than mammoth size being responsible for Ustrnul’s
high ranking, and Newman didn’t even play the last time Plymouth was in these
parts, he was at the U.S. World Juniors try-out camp. Argis Saviels of Owen
Sound will also be at the Prospect’s Game, and from the few times I have seen
him he was on the Plater’s first power-play unit but didn’t distinguish himself,
but he did manage to knock two guys down in two seconds during a penalty-kill.
I’ll get a few more looks at these players before the season ends.

OTHER NOTES…….Fans in Ontario will get their own scheduling rotation for
seeing the defencemen above via the Global Television Network on consecutive
Saturdays:

January 29th — North Bay at Belleville

February 5th — Brampton at Windsor

February 12th — Ottawa at Brampton

February 19th — Windsor at Peterborough

………The top three draft-eligible forwards from the OHL for the NHL draft remain
the same, Nikita Alexeev, Brad Boyes and Raffi Torres, although the order has
changed. Steve Ott of Windsor has jumped from seventh to fourth among forwards
as he has shown an ability to come down the wing with a burst and drive to the net.
He is also displaying good passing ability, good hockey sense on the power-play,
is killing penalties, and has flashed some impressive puck-carrying from his own
end into the opposition zone……….In addition to the two defenceman mentioned
earlier, the Plymouth Whalers will be well represented at the Prospect’s Game at
forward as well with the troika of Tomas Kurka, Kris Vernarsky, and Justin
Williams. It will be interesting to see if Vernarsky displays some skill with his
toughness, and Kurka some toughness with his skill…….North Bay’s Samu Isosalo
has dropped from the Top 25 among OHL prospects. No speed, no acceleration,
and plenty of scoring opportunities gone by the wayside despite playing with
talented Jonas Andersson, a 2nd-round pick of the Nashville Predators in the ‘99
Draft……..Why is Brampton’s Lukas Havel ranked 10th among OHL forwards?

NEXT REPORT : The Prospect’s Game

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