Among the top drafted defensemen currently plying their trade in the NHL are first-rounders Ryan Ellis, Calvin de Haan, Jared Tinordi, and Erik Gudbranson.
1. Ryan Ellis, Windsor Spitfires (Nashville Predators, 1st round, 11th overall, 2009)
42 GP, 18 G, 50A, 68 PTS, 43 PIM
The Windsor Spitfires’ captain has done it all in the OHL: he’s a two-time Memorial Cup champion, on a team that stocked up to make its third run at the CHL crown; he’s a three-time World Junior medallist, with a gold and a pair of silver to his name; and he’s currently tied with 2011 draft-eligible Ryan Murphy for the league lead in scoring by a blueliner, despite playing eight fewer games. He also has a budding TV career following a memorable commercial for TSN with Windsor teammate (and Team USA foil) Jack Campbell.
All in all, it’s been an incredible junior career for the Freelton, ON native. In addition, he’s also put to rest many of the questions that lingered about his size. At 5’11, he’s not the biggest blueliner of the bunch, but solid positional play and a commitment to improving his defensive play have led him to a plus-19 rating — far and away tops on his OHL club.
Ellis is a dynamically gifted offensive player, excellent with the first pass and earmarked as a power play quarterback in the future.
Most importantly, Ellis is a proven winner and carries the advantages that come with that designation.
The six-foot-one Toronto native has shown plenty of promise to lead the hometown fans into hoping that he can transition his superlative offensive game to the professional ranks.
Blacker’s offensive totals have increased significantly in his third full OHL campaign. Originally signed by the Windsor Spitfires, Blacker joined the Attack last year and made an immediate impact on the Owen Sound blueline.
Despite starting slowly in Windsor (one assist in six games), he caught fire with the Attack. In 48 games the team last year, he accounted for 30 points and 62 PIM. This season, he’s already exceeded those totals in an equal number of games this season.
Blacker showed promise last season in a six-game call-up with the Toronto Marlies, following Owen Sound’s elimination from playoff contention. Although he only accounted for one assist in limited ice time, he managed to finish the season even in terms of plus/minus — no small feat on a team where most regulars found themselves on the wrong side of that ledger.
Taylor Doherty has continued the impressive development he displayed last season as with the Frontenacs — all the while doing it with the added burden of the team’s captaincy upon his shoulders.
Despite the presence of NHL first-rounder Erik Gudbranson on the roster, the Frontenacs chose the 6’8, 230-pound Cambridge, ON native to wear the C — and he’s responded. In addition to compiling solid offensive numbers, he’s been a rock on the team’s blueline all season.
Doherty has been relied upon not just during even-strength play, but he’s also found himself regularly on both the team’s power play and penalty-killing units. He’s a passable minus-five on a passable Frontenacs’ roster; and he’s shown a willingness to throw his sizable frame around, earning 60 minutes of respite in the penalty box this year.
Although the Islanders surprised many by moving up in the 2009 draft to pick de Haan — a move that many at the time thought was a bit of a reach for the 25th-ranked prospect, de Haan has rewarded their faith by blossoming as a solid all-around defenseman.
De Haan has shown solid leadership qualities to date in his junior career, culminating with his appointment as team captain for the Oshawa Generals and adding an assistant captaincy with Team Canada in his second go-’round with the world junior squad.
Most importantly for the Islanders, de Haan has shown this season that he’s fully rebounded from a major shoulder injury that sidelined him for half of last season. He’s an excellent set-up man and very sound positionally. And while he doesn’t appear to be headed towards elite blueliner status, he has shown that he’s well on his way to being a solid second-pairing, depth defenseman.
The Hamilton, ON may be a native of "our home and native land," but he’s been finding life pretty good in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Chiarot, was traded mid-way through this season from the Sudbury Wolves to the Saginaw Spirit as the latter was looking to improve its depth along the blue line. In 24 games since the trade, he’s compiled four goals and 13 assists. He’s also continued to carry the team with his robust style of play.
The 6’3, 222-pound blueliner racked up 167 PIMs last year, and while he’s a little more controlled this season, he’s still spent 106 minutes in the penalty box. He’s also seen an improvement in his defensive play this year, moving from minus-five in 25 games with the Wolves to a plus-11 in Saginaw — although the calibre of teams likely factors into that as well.
In many ways, the Thrashers look like they may have picked up excellent value with their 2009 fourth-round selection, as Chiarot has NHL size and is sound positionally. He’s also had a taste of the professional ranks, spending one game with the Chicago Wolves last year after Sudbury’s four-game elimination in the playoffs. Next year, expect the 19-year-old blueliner to get a long look at a permanent position in the AHL.
It’s been a trying year for the hulking blueliner. In late January, he was suspended for disciplinary reasons and stripped of his alternate captaincy by the Frontenacs. He’s also currently serving an eight-game suspension resulting from a vicious late-January elbow.
He also missed 27 games last year to mononucelosis. But when he’s in the lineup, it’s clear how valuable Gudbranson is. The Frontenacs are well over .500 when he’s in the lineup, but woefully under that mark when he’s been out. At 6’4, 209 pounds, the 19-year-old blueliner matches up well with the aforementioned Doherty to form an imposing physical presence on the Kingston blue line, but off-ice issues have raised some concerns.
6’7, 212-pound left-shooting blueliner took about half a year adjusting to the OHL after leaving the US ranks, but he’s become a solid rock on the developing Knights’ blueline, increasing his importance to the squad in light of the Michael D’Orazio trade.
Tall, but not overly physical, Tinordi has worked diligently at improving his physical play and has quickly become one of the more reliable defensive defensemen in the league.
The left-handed shooting blueliner has shown steady improvement over the years in the OHL. Originally with the London Knights, Valentine was included as part of the bounty extracted in the John Tavares trade. With increased exposure in Oshawa, he’s improved his play.
This season, the 6’2 blueliner has blossomed, accounting for three goals and 25 assists in 46 games so far. He’s also shown a willingness to mix it up with 90 PIM to his credit.
The Ottawa native has also improved his defensive play, currently residing amongst the team leaders in plus/minus with a plus-13 rating.
Prout was obtained at the deadline by the Saginaw Spirit as a depth addition to a stocked roster and his performance has diminished in time with his exposure. However, Prout remains a solid, all-around blueliner and will be counted upon for his steadiness and experience in the playoffs.
With Barrie, Prout was performing at almost a point-per-game pace from the blue line: seven goals and 21 points in 23 games. Since moving to Saginaw, the transition’s been a little choppier as he’s only accounted for four points in 14 games.
Archibald also moved to the Spirit at the deadline, moving from a youth-movement-oriented Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound squad to the U.S. However, like Prout, he’s found that a better team means fewer opportunities.
With the Greyhounds he had accounted for 19 points in 37 games; so far with the Spirit, he’s only earned two points in 14 games since the trade. That said, offense isn’t the key to Archibald’s game and he’s continued to play a solid overall game when given the opportunity.