2015 NHL Draft: McDavid, Strome highlight potentially strong group from OHL

By Jason Menard
Mitchell Marner - London Knights

Photo: London Knights forward and 2015 prospect Mitchell Marner has been impressive offensively in the 2014-15 season as he is currently the leading scorer in the OHL (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

One of the keys to success at the NHL level is depth down the middle. For the upcoming NHL Draft, the OHL offers both quantity and quality — including a trio that could be considered elite in the years to come.

 

Here is a mid-season rundown of a few of the top prospects from the OHL for the 2015 NHL Draft.

 

1. Connor McDavid, C

6-1, 195 pounds, Erie Otters (ISS Ranking – 1)

 

McDavid’s been on the NHL radar for years and for some long-suffering teams, he’s emerged as the next great hope.

 

The Newmarket, ON prospect is seen as a generational talent — the next, next great hope in a line that last saw Sidney Crosby hold that mantle. This year, McDavid was not just living up to those expectations, he was exceeding them — leading his Erie Otters to the top of the OHL standings and positioning the team for a long playoff run.

 

In 18 games, McDavid had scored 16 goals and added 35 assists, averaging nearly three points per game. Yet, despite all the damage he was doing on the score sheet with his hands, he was set back when his right fist was damaged during a fight.

 

McDavid returned to action at the 2015 World Junior Championship and showed few signs of rust, finishing tied for the points lead at that tournament while helping Canada reclaim WJC gold.

 

Despite the injury, McDavid’s stock has not fallen at all. He’s still seen as the clear-cut favorite to go first overall in this year’s draft. McDavid is likely in his last season at the junior level as it seems certain that he’ll suit up next season for the team that selects him in June.

 

2. Dylan Strome, C

6-3, 190 pounds, Erie Otters (ISS Ranking – 7)

 

Strome has come into his own this season and has shown why he’s a viable top-five selection.

 

Opportunity has knocked this year and Strome has walked confidently through that door. There were questions as to whether Strome’s production should be taken with a grain of salt; wondering if he benefited from the attention opposing teams place on McDavid.

 

But since McDavid’s injury, Strome has continued to produce and is second in the league in points with 71 points in 38 games, including 44 assists. He has good NHL size and is an elite face-off man. He also has the bloodlines, with his older brother Ryan paving the way as a fifth-overall selection with the New York Islanders.

 

3. Mitchell Marner, C

5-11, 160 pounds, London Knights (ISS Ranking – 9)

 

Marner is leading the OHL in scoring, accounting for 77 points in 38 games, including 32 goals. Marner has electrified fans and scouts alike with elite passing and puck-handling skills.

 

The Knights’ forward has grown in stature this season, but still has room to add bulk and muscle. But his on-ice performance has been superlative. Displaying a vision and skillset that makes you stand up and watch, Marner’s continued elevated play has made him a viable top-10 selection.

 

4. Pavel Zacha, C

6-3, 210 pounds, Sarnia Sting (ISS Ranking – 11)

 

Zacha surprised a lot of people by joining the Sting this season when it was expected that he would remain in Europe, but the big center is transitioning to the North American game and showing flashes of the dominant offensive player he can be.

 

But Zacha is more than just an offensive prospect. He plays the game with an edge — and sometimes goes over that edge. He’s only appeared in 21 games this year, scoring nine goals and adding 10 assists, due to the fact that he was suspended for six games following a hit during a Nov. 21st game. In addition, he represented the Czech Republic at the recently completed World Juniors where he turned in performance in keeping with his play in the OHL.

 

At 6’3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the size and skill that all teams are looking for up the middle. Showing a gritty edge and continuing to adjust to life on this side of the Atlantic will only help his progression.

 

5. Travis Konecny, C

5-10, 175 pounds, Ottawa 67’s (ISS Ranking – 14)

 

Konecny, a former first-overall OHL draft selection, may not be putting up the numbers one would expect – his 11 goals and 14 assists has him 62nd overall in the OHL – but Konecny’s all-around play and character make him an attractive package to a lot of NHL teams, especially when you consider that the offensive talent is still expected to blossom.

 

What people like about Konecny is his leadership abilities, attitude, and effort. The talent is there, but has yet to blossom. There have also been suggestions that Konecny isn’t playing at 100 per cent.

 

6. Lawson Crouse, LW

6-4, 215 pounds, Kingston Frontenacs (ISS Ranking – 3)

 

The power forward is the most elusive of NHL players. Finding that one player who combines size, aggressiveness, and scoring ability who can plug into the top line is the Holy Grail that scouts beat the bushes in search of.

 

Crouse, at 6’4” and 215 pounds, has the size. With 12 goals in 24 games, he’s shown his abilities. And people are taking notice.

 

The winger joined Connor McDavid as the only 17-year-old players on Team Canada’s roster at the World Junior Championship, and he earned that lofty designation not only thanks to his prodigious size, but because of his commitment to a two-way game. Some had questioned Crouse’s selection to the WJC roster, but Crouse acquitted himself well at the tournament with a performance that grabbed the attention of scouts.

 

Crouse is by no means a set-up man. He has only four assists this season and finished last season with 15 goals and 12 assists. Crouse gets his goals in the dirty areas and that may translate to the next level. For teams looking for a solid two-way option with size, Crouse is doing his best to put himself in the picture.

 

7. Matthew Spencer, D

6-1, 200 pounds, Peterborough Petes (ISS Ranking – 24)

 

Spencer is a solid, two-way defender who is working his way up the roster in Peterborough. In 36 games to date this year, he’s scored five goals and added 16 assists. And despite his -6 rating, he’s shown a solid development in the defensive aspect of his game.

 

At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Spencer has good, but not great, size and is a plus skater.

 

8. Nikita Korostelev, RW

6-1, 195 pounds, Sarnia Sting (ISS Ranking – 23)

 

Korostelev has shown elite-level offensive skills with the Sting this year as he’s been counted upon to provide secondary scoring for a roster that features a number of less experienced players.

 

What you notice most about Korostelev is his skating. He can be riveting to watch on the ice when he’s at the top of his game. He has performed consistently this year, currently residing in the top 40 of OHL scoring with 16 goals and 20 assists in 34 games. A shoulder injury has kept Korostelev out of action recently, however.

 

He has average NHL size, but is a plus skater with deft hands and a nose for the net. If there is an area of deficiency it may be in his commitment to the defensive end, but that is coming along.

 

9. Travis Dermott, D

5-11, 200 pounds, Erie Otters (NR)

 

Looking at the numbers alone, it’s tough to measure members of the Erie Otters. The team as a whole is proficient in scoring, putting up video-game style numbers at times. With three goals and 10 assists, Dermott has played a key role on the Otters’ blue line and has shown that he’s a viable draft candidate in his own right.

 

Dermott isn’t huge, but positionally he has been using his body well this season — his +11 isn’t just due to the Otters’ frequent running up the scoreboard.

 

Dermott is a smart defenseman. He uses positioning to steer players away from the dangerous areas and displays anticipation and elite hockey sense. He continues to complement the Otters’ attack without sacrificing his defensive responsibilities.

 

10. Mackenzie Blackwood, G

6-4, 215 pounds, Barrie Colts (NR)

 

Early-round goalies are few and far between in the NHL Draft, but Blackwood is hoping to change that.

 

Since becoming an OHL starter at 16 — a rarity in a league that prefers 19-year-old netminders as a rule — Blackwood has shown that he can backstop the Colts to success. And even with the loss of talented minute-eater Aaron Ekblad to the NHL this season, Blackwood’s success — and his importance to the team — continues to grow.

 

This year, he’s posted an 18-6-1-0 record in 26 games behind a 3.28 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage. That’s a continuation of last year’s success where in 45 games he posted a 2.98 goals-against and .902 save percentage en route to a 25-15-1-1 record.

 

Blackwood has the size that NHL teams love, which is combined with solid fundamentals and positional play.

 

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard