While the elite quality of OHL defensemen from the 2015-16 season may not resemble the ranks of the past – or even what we are likely to see next season – there is a solid roster of depth defensemen that can bring some quality and value to NHL ranks.
Below is a ranking of those OHL defenders from the current season who are primarily property of NHL clubs, along with one former property who is eligible to sign with any NHL team.
1. Rasmus Andersson – Barrie Colts (CGY)
Chosen in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
In his second season in North America, Rasmus Andersson continued his solid and steady development, becoming a leader on the back end of the Colts’ blueline and improving his overall play at both ends of the rink.
Statistically, his numbers haven’t changed dramatically. In 64 games this season, his point totals were on par with his rookie season in 2014-15. Scoring nine goals and adding 51 assists, the right-shooting Sweden native performed at almost a point per game rate.
Defensively, Andersson improved dramatically, going from +14 to +34 this season. While plus/minus is a statistic that has its proponents and its detractors, the number in this case is reflective of the total game-play improvement that Andersson has displayed.
Andersson has shown that he is ready to make the jump to the pro ranks and looks poised to start next season as a 19-year-old in the AHL (he turns 20 in late October). At 6’ and 210 pounds, he has solid size but still has some frame upon which to build.
2. Vince Dunn – Niagara IceDogs (STL)
Chosen in the second round (56th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
Vince Dunn is one of the more interesting and dynamic defensive prospects in the OHL and was poised for an offensively dominant season in 2015-16. But that was derailed – along with his World Junior dreams – thanks to a mid-season wrist injury.
However, Dunn has come back with a vengeance and has shown that he is healthy and ready to take the next step in his development. Despite missing a number of games due to the injury, Dunn has been able to return and build up his performance, leading the IceDogs into the OHL championship series.
In 52 games this season, Dunn has continued to showcase the dynamic offensive game that drew so much attention in his draft year. With 12 goals and 31 assists this season, Dunn proved that he has what it takes to play a key offensive role in the future. At 6’ and 185 pounds, Dunn is a little more slight than some of his defensive peers, but he plays with a speed and shiftiness that will serve him well.
In addition, Dunn – who has been known for his offensive abilities – has shown a greater focus in the defensive zone this year and has been able to complement an elite offensive game with solid defensive play.
3. Travis Dermott, Erie Otters (TOR)
Selected in the second round (34th overal) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
With the loss of a player the caliber of Connor McDavid (not to mention all the other significant veteran losses), one would have expected a bit of a step back for the Erie Otters this season. But, thanks in large part to Toronto Maple Leafs’ defensive prospect Travis Dermott, the Otters were able to remain atop the CHL rankings all season and made a long run in the OHL playoffs before being ousted by the London Knights.
Dermott not only led the Otters this season, he was also a part of Team Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championship. He has continued his two-way development and, at 5’11 and 210 pounds, he has the stockiness and solid body positioning to allow him to play a strong physical defensive game.
The Newmarket, ON product scored six goals and added 37 assists this year. He also displayed a certain feistiness in his game, racking up not only 65 penalty minutes during the regular season, but also a five-game suspension in the playoffs.
4. Roland McKeown, Kingston Frontenacs (CAR)
Drafted in the second round (50th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft (by Los Angeles)
At 6’2”, Roland McKeown is a large presence on the blueline and looks ready to continue his development in the professional ranks. After a four-game audition last year with the Charlotte Checkers following the Frontenacs’ ouster from the playoffs, he returned this year to play a key role in Kingston’s success.
Not only was he a leader on the blueline, eating up significant minutes and playing in all key situations, but he also bore the Frontenacs’ ‘C’ on his sweater.
The Listowel, ON native scored seven goals and added 35 assists this season and finished the year with a +21 rating. Coming in just shy of 200 pounds, McKeown still has plenty of growing to do and plenty of opportunity to add muscle onto his frame. When he does, he has the potential to be a strong physical addition to the Hurricanes’ blueline in the future.
5. Stephen Desrocher, Kingston Frontenacs (TOR)
Drafted in the sixth round (155th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
Joining the Frontenacs after a successful career with the Oshawa Generals, 6’4, 210-pound Stephen Desrochers paired with Roland McKeown to provide Kingston with arguably the league’s top defensive pairing in the 2015-16 campaign.
Desrocher may not be offensively flashy, but he is capable in that facet of the ice, scoring 11 goals and adding 35 assists between Oshawa and Kingston this season. But where Desrocher shines is in his own end.
He projects to be a shutdown defender in the future, and he has already shown a great deal of skill and ability in his own end. He is a strong positional defenseman who can also use his size to advantage. What is exciting for Maple Leafs’ fans is that he still has plenty of room to grown on his frame and should only become a more imposing physical presence in the not-too-distant future.
6. Gustav Bouramman, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (MIN)
Selected in the seventh round (201st overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
With the loss of Anthony DeAngelo and Darnell Nurse from the Greyhounds blueline this season, there was a large void waiting to be filled. Greyounds’ defender Gustav Bouramman may not be as physically imposing as Nurse or as offensively gifted as DeAngelo, but he ably filled the void and provided for less of a drop-off than expected for the Soo this season.
The Stockholm native matched his offensive performance from 2014-15, scoring 40 points in 68 games (last year, 44 points in 67) despite having more responsibilities in the defensive end. Statistically, his play suffered (dropping to a -5), but he gained a great deal of experience in all aspects of the game and played in all scenarios.
7. Kyle Capobianco, Sudbury Wolves (ARI)
Selected in the third round (63rd overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
It can be hard to overlook a combined -92 rating in two seasons. It can be easy to gloss over a player who has toiled in the relative anonymity afforded by a truly bad hockey team. But if playing with the Wolves has been a trial by fire, Kyle Capobianco’s experience can help fuel a promising future.
Putting aside the plus/minus, Capobianco finished this season with seven goals and 36 assists and has shown an ability to play well at both ends of the ice. He is known for his offensive abilities, but he has shown a solid understanding of defensive play.
At 6’2”, he has good height and has plenty of room for growth and filling out his frame.
8. Thomas Schemitsch, Owen Sound Attack (FLA)
Selected in the third round (88th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
A broken wrist may have delayed the start of Thomas Schemitsch’s campaign, but he hit the ice running and completed a solid overall season with the Owen Sound Attack, where he continued to show the overall development and solid play that made him a viable prospect.
In 51 games this season, the Thornhill, ON native finished with nine goals (down from 14 in his draft year) and 22 assists. The right-shooting defender took a while to get back up to game speed, but finished the season as a core member of the Attack’s complete game.
At 6’4” and 205 pounds, Schemitsch potentially has NHL size but needs to fill out a bit more. He has shown an ability to use his size to effect, but needs to continue to refine that aspect of his game.
9. Miles Liberati, Kitchener Rangers
Selected in the seventh round (205th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft (by Vancouver)
Miles Liberati joined the Kitchener Rangers in his overage season to play a key role in the Rangers’ playoff push. The 6’, 200-pound defenseman showed that he is a solid, steady role player with leadership abilities.
In 66 games this season split between the North Bay Battalion and the Kitchener Rangers, Liberati scored 15 goals and added 31 assists. Liberati is a solid, positional defender who won’t dazzle with flash, but can play a key depth role in the professional ranks.
Liberati went unsigned by the Vancouver Canucks in 2015 and is now a free agent.
10. Vili Saarijarvi, Flint Firebirds (DET)
Selected in the third round (73rd overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
Not only did he show solid potential on the ice in Flint, with 12 goals and 43 assists in 59 games, but Saarijarvi also brought home a gold medal from the 2016 World Junior Championship.
At 5’10” and 165 pounds, Saarijarvi is a smaller prospect, but he still has time to add some muscle and weight. He is a solid, shifty player with great vision and solid offensive instincts and he has shown an ability to succeed both within the Finnish system and in the North American game, both in Flint and last season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL.
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @