With CSB’s rankings out a few days early, instead of a forward-looking piece on this year’s OHL draft-prospects, I’m left instead to take a mostly backwards look at the early-season rankings of Central Scouting.
There are six players who look like a cut-above the rest of the pack. The Big Six consist of three forwards and three defencemen. The best of each are d-man Kurtis Foster of Peterborough and forward Raffi Torres of Brampton. Nobody seems to mention Torres when talking about the 2000 draft.
The only knock that could possibly be put on him is his size. He’s a notch below the
benchmark 6’0″, but at 5’11″ he’s a sturdy 193 pounds. Other than that the kid has
above-average skills in every facet, especially skating, and especially especially in
hockey sense. This kid is a player, the real deal. A lead-pipe cinch for the Prospects Game, and really should get
a look at Team Canada’s final evaluation camp prior to the WJC, he’s that good.
You can’t miss Foster, he’s a 6’4″ giant with good skating ability, puck-skills, and he’s
putting up good offensive numbers already. Everything the scouts like about a player, this kid has it. He may be the No. 1 prospect in the OHL. A notch below these two would be the Erie Otters forward tandem of Nikita Alexeev and Brad Boyes, and on the blue-line you have Windsor’s Dan Growden and North Bay’s Chris Eade who’s currently out because of an
Torres is now
quoted 14 pounds heavier than his OHL Media Guide weight of 193 lbs., and at 207 it
hasn’t slowed him down one bit. He has a scorer’s hands, is able to manouevre in traffic close to
the net, and has a strong shot. He could probably have even better offensive numbers, but he
plays within the system put forth by Coach Butler and picks his spots as to when to stray
from his position.
NIKITA ALEXEEV would have the scouts raving if only he had good puck-skills, but he
doesn’t. Still, all the practice in the world won’t make you 6’5″ if you’re only 6’1″.
He has the size and the willingness to use it. He has good skating ability, the one discipline
that you want up-front in a prospect. The biggest weakness in his game is the one that is
most easily attainable through time and practice. As it is, you have a prospect who should
be an NHLer based on size, willingness to use his size, and skating ability. The upside is
in the puck-handling. If he can add that to his repertoire over the next few years, the
result could be an above-average NHLer.
BRAD BOYES has a high skill-level but obviously needs to add some pounds to his listed
160-pound frame. Although there are others in this draft-crop with good skills, the difference
becomes apparent at the opposition blue-line. Whereas other good prospects can carry the
puck and make plays up to the opposition blue-line, Boyes is one of the few that can take it
a step further and create scoring opportunities in the offensive zone where the checking
intensifies and the room to operate becomes reduced. Last year one had to take with a
grain of salt the successes of players given that the GTA could offer only expansion-team
opposition. This year the Brampton Battalion can make a player look bad, as they did earlier
this year when shutting down Boyes. Against St. Mike’s however, it was a different story,
and two body-checks told a significant tale. Big defencemen Boucher and Lakos took their
best runs at Boyes and went down while Brad stayed on his skates. As he bulks up, he
should be able to handle NHL hits.
KURTIS FOSTER will be the top-ranked draft-eligible defenceman in the OHL by season’s
end. Right now Brampton’s ROSTISLAV KLESLA is ranked ahead of him. Klesla may be the No. 2 draft-eligible on his team, preferring TYLER HANCHUK,
although one must separate the tools from the performance in his case as he is prone to
making bad decisions in the defensive zone. That should iron itself out with time. He’s
strictly a stay-at-home type who has the potential to be a force in his own end of the rink.
Foster on the other-hand has the size (6-4, 200), is an above-average passer, can carry
the puck out of the defensive zone, and can cover a lot of ice with his big stride. He’s already putting up decent offensive-numbers, but the big improvements should come in
his defensive zone work as his size should upgrade him from efficient to dominant. The
upside with this kid is considerable, whereas Klesla has comparatively more question
marks moving forward in his own end of the rink, without the Ozolinch-type offensive
upside to compensate.
DAN GROWDEN of Windsor isn’t even ranked in the Top 25 in the OHL by CSB. Growden is sort of a benchmark. When you
see the big-time skating that he brings to the rink, it puts the merits of other prospects into
quick perspective. Growden doesn’t have the prototypical size for an NHL defenceman as
he checks in at 6-0, 180. This also illustrates the relative weakness of the draft when
compared to 1999 or 1997. Future NHLers are available, but potential stars are few and
Growden’s abilities can be measured in steps. He can make the 1st-pass out of his zone
like many other defensive prospects. He can also carry the puck out of his zone like
fewer prospects. He can carry it over center-ice for the shoot-in like still-fewer prospects
can. The big surprise is that his skills haven’t translated into more offensive numbers, but
at this stage one should be more concerned about the “raw materials” rather than the “finished
product.” He seems to have more of it than anyone this side of Foster, but his size will
probably preclude him from being more than a #3-4 defenceman at best at the NHL-level.
However other defensive prospects with more size will find their skill-level as their short-coming.
CHRIS EADE recently returned to the line-up after a lengthy absence caused by appendicitis.
It’s possible that his ranking is as low as it is
because he’s been out of action. He has a high skill-level. He was
particularly adept at positioning, always moving a few steps this way or that way in the offensive
zone to give teammates a passing option, and in the defensive zone to always put himself in
between the puck and either the man he was covering, or the net. He doesn’t put up big penalty-
minutes which brings into question his physical play, but he doesn’t appear to shy away from
that aspect of the game. At 6-2, 191, he certainly has the size. This kid is worth keeping an eye
on as the season progresses, and if he remains healthy his stock should rise.
As for the rest of CSB’s early picks, the Plymouth Whalers have some interesting prospects
that bring different things to the rink. KRIS VERNARSKY has decent skills to go with his
size (6-3, 180), but doesn’t have the finish of the smaller TOMAS KURKA (6-0, 180) who gets
knocked off the puck a bit too easily, or the scorer’s touch of JUSTIN WILLIAMS (5-11, 161)
who needs to take his skating to a higher level given his size. JARED NEWMAN is at the
junior camp of Team USA and bears watching as the season progresses. LIBOR USTRNUL is huge, 6-5, 220, and that size has him ranked higher than he should be although he does show a North American willingness to drop the gloves and beat people with a primitive-looking but effective overhand clubbing action.
There might be more than meets the eye with Mississauga’s LOU DICKENSON. The chronic
losing was getting to him late last season, and the team is still horrible this year, so he might
have to be cut some slack. However, despite his skills, he still looks to be a soft player, one
who looks out of his element when trying to play a physical game. It doesn’t look like it
comes naturally to him, but rather that he’s trying to do something because he has to rather
than wants to. Whereas Jason Spezza will thrive with the Ice Dogs as Don Cherry
will think back to Bobby Orr and not want to harness his talents, Dickenson might be better
off somewhere else.
AGRIS SAVIELS is getting plenty of ice-time with the Owen Sound Platers playing on the
1st PP unit, and killing penalties as well as taking a regular shift. He has good offensive
skills and although inconsistent defensively shows he’s capable of playing in his own end
as well. Definitely worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
STEVE OTT of Windsor is a Sean Avery-type of player, he has skills but his size may be
detrimental. Will it translate at a higher-level? Looks like a mid-round draft pick at best.
BOBBY TURNER of London has disappointed thus far. He needs to step
it up as the year goes on, perhaps offensive numbers are not in the cards for him, in which
case he’s going to have to show more reliability in his own end of the rink.
DARRYL BOOTLAND has a nice skill-set if taken within the framework of a power-forward,
but thus far he has not demonstrated as much of an edge to his game as he did last year, except
behind the play and after whistles. If he doesn’t show some hunger in the offensive zone and go
to the net, there are better options skill-wise. At this point, too much style, not enough grunt
RYAN COURTNEY looks like a good junior player, but doesn’t show me anything exceptional
to suggest he’ll be a factor at a higher level. RYAN HARE is smallish, and doesn’t put up the numbers. Another reflection of the relative weakness of this year’s crop if this kid is in the Top 25. GREG JACINA hasn’t shown much in Owen Sound either.
CHRIS BERTI is a big kid (6-5, 210) who can handle the puck and is a good passer, but like so
many prospects has a tough time creating anything once inside the opposition blue-line. His
skating needs work, particularly his acceleration, but he still can cover a lot of ice with his big
stride when he’s not required to go at top speed. Could be a good project with a mid-to-lower
SAMU ISOSALO is an interesting prospect. The big Finn (6-3, 211) can handle
the puck and has a nice scoring touch. As with so many of the other big kids, his skating is fine until acceleration is required, where it takes him a while to get into another gear. Having said that, he may be still suffering from an injury. He looked like he was skating with an exaggerated bow-legged style. If that’s his normal gait, then it is a short-coming.
Later in the season will be reports on guys like Delisle, Ballantyne, and Wehrstedt.
And for a few players that Central Scouting might have overlooked: Brampton’s AARON VAN LEUSEN is worth the price of admission based on his skating ability alone. There is not a prospect with a greater disparity between skating ability and puck-
handling ability. He really struggles with the puck on his stick. However he is already being
groomed for the role that best suits him, a checking-line winger, and his fleet feet make him
particularly effective on the penalty-kill where he is able to nullify shots and passes by
getting his stick on the puck just as it’s being released. He has the potential to fill a role with
an NHL club looking to keep the other team off the score-sheet. With all of the Euro’s coming
to North America, this kid could benefit from a program that would see North Americans go
the other way for a year. But his skating is something to behold.
Still with Brampton, Chris Rowan is a big kid (6-3, 200) who could be a worthy project with
a last-round draft pick. He shows some creativity with the puck, but his skating style is
totally unorthodox. From the waist down he bends his knees as he should, but from the waist-up
he’s totally straight-up. An intense off-season or two focusing on his skating technique could
provide a significant improvement in that area, and when coupled with the size and skills he
does have, well you could do worse with a 9th-round pick.
Given that a few smaller skill-players made the list, Blaine Down of Guelph may be just as viable as some of the players already listed. Definitely skilled, a good skater, generates
offence, but is easy to knock off the puck. Interestingly, while the Colts don’t play the trap,
Down backs up and clogs the neutral-zone when he’s out there instead of applying pressure
on the forecheck with his skating ability. He’s impressed more than some of the players on
the list such as Hare, Jacina, and Courtney.
As the field gets narrowed and the prospects get separated from the non-prospects, there will be more updates throughout the season leading up to the 2000 NHL Draft.