Top 10 OHL Wingers

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Freddie Hamilton is one of several players to have been selected in the mid-to-late rounds of the NHL Draft who now look like they could down the road be solid NHLers. (Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The list of Top 10 OHL wingers features a few players who were taken in the first-round of the NHL Draft, but there are also several players who went in later rounds yet have exceeded expectations and become quality NHL prospects.

The following 10 players are all property of NHL teams and all figure to make an impact for their respective organizations in the near future.

1. Brandon Saad, Saginaw Spirit
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2011

In his two OHL seasons, Saad has become one of the league's elite offensive players while at the same time moving up the ranks of Chicago Blackhawks prospects. A first-round talent who slipped to the second round in last year's draft, Saad averaged close to two points a game this year, scoring 34 goals and totaling 76 points in 44 games. Had he played the whole schedule with the Spirit, it is likely that Saad would have challenged for the league's scoring title.

The 19-year-old Pittsburgh native's exceptional performance earned him a call-up to the big club to replace the injured Marian Hossa. Saad played in his first ever NHL playoff game on Chicago's top line in their game four loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

A sturdy winger who already possesses NHL size and strength, Saad has developed into an all-around offensive threat. He is adept as both a goal-scorer and playmaker, and has the instincts of knowing the right places to be in the offensive zone. It is this awareness that should allow him to make an impact in the NHL in the near future.

2. Stefan Noesen, Plymouth Whalers
NHL Rights: Ottawa Senators
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2011

A physical player who plays a power forward's game, Noesen has been a force ever since he first put on a Plymouth Whalers jersey. A rare hockey prospect from the state of Texas, Noesen's move to the OHL has allowed him to become the complete player that the NHL covets. This year, the 19-year-old improved upon his excellent second season in Plymouth by reaching new career highs in goals with 38 and points with 82.

As mentioned, Noesen is a very physical player who loves to take the body. He has totaled 154 penalty minutes in the last two seasons combined and plays with an aggressiveness that will remind some of former Guelph Storm and current LA Kings captain Dustin Brown.

3. Tyler Toffoli, Ottawa 67's
NHL Rights: Los Angeles Kings
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2010

In his four-year OHL career, Toffoli has been one of the league's most consistent point producers. Producing his second straight 50 goal and 100 point season, Toffoli continues to be the heart and soul leader of an Ottawa 67's team that has enjoyed some nice success and has advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals this season.

After leading the league with 57 goals and tying for the league-lead with 108 points last year, Toffoli came through with another monster season in 2011-12 once again topping the OHL with 52 goals and finishing second in points with 100 in 65 games played.

Despite all of his success and accolades throughout his junior career, the soon to be 20-year-old has endured some hardships as well; most notably being left off the Canadian Junior team the past two years. The Los Angeles Kings second-round pick has certainly used those two experiences as motivation and remains an elite prospect in the Kings organization.

4. Tobias Rieder, Kitchener Rangers
NHL Rights: Edmonton Oilers
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2011

In his second OHL season, Rieder has made his fourth-round NHL Draft selection look like an absolute steal.

The diminutive German forward showed glimpses of his potential in his rookie year but was at times unsure of himself while playing behind the likes of Gabriel Landeskog (COL), Jason Akeson (PHI), and Jerry D'Amigo (TOR) in Kitchener. This year, with those three players having moved on, Rieder was the club's go-to forward and produced a season that was sure to impress the management of the Edmonton Oilers.

The 19-year-old finished fifth in the OHL with 42 goals and 10th with 85 points, but it has been his play in Kitchener's playoff run that has been most impressive. Rieder has formed a lethal duo with linemate Michael Catenacci and has been a major factor in the Rangers run to the Western Conference Finals. Leading the playoffs in both goals and points, Rieder is proving to be one of the biggest steals in last year's draft and is yet another excellent offensive prospect in the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

5. Freddie Hamilton, Niagara IceDogs
NHL Rights: San Jose Sharks
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2010

Unheralded in his draft year, the past two seasons have seen Hamilton become one of the best two-way players in all of the CHL. The older brother of Bruins first-rounder and Niagara teammate Dougie, the elder Hamilton has also carved out a superb OHL career and is on the path to having a lengthy NHL career.

The second-leading scorer on a Niagara team loaded with talent, Hamilton set a new career-high with 86 points this year to go along with his 35 goals. A member of Team Canada's bronze medal-winning World Junior team, the 20-year-old is hoping that his junior career will end in style with an OHL championship as well as an opportunity to compete for the Memorial Cup.

As a pro, Hamilton projects to be a versatile winger as someone who can line up on the wing or at center and play on a scoring or checking line.

6. Christian Thomas, Oshawa Generals
NHL Rights: New York Rangers
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2010

Coming off a season in which he ranked as one of the elite goal-scorers in the CHL, Thomas fell off a bit in 2011-2012. Although his 34 goals and 67 points are very good numbers, they failed in comparison to the 54 goals and 99 points that he put up a year ago.

Thomas' struggles, if you can consider them that, were largely due to an early season suspension that shortened his season by 10 games. The 19-year-old took some time to regain his scoring touch, but when he did, he once again became one of the more dangerous offensive players in the league.

The son of former NHLer Steve Thomas, Christian makes up for his lack of size (5'9, 170) with excellent instincts and a deft-scoring ability. He is a natural goal-scorer who is a quick skater and possesses a very quick release. At the culmination of his season with Oshawa, Thomas has been signed to the Rangers AHL team in Connecticut where he has two goals and two assists in six games.

7. Nicklas Jensen, Oshawa Generals
NHL Rights: Vancouver Canucks
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2011

After averaging a point-per-game with the Oshawa Generals this season, Jensen has quickly shown why he is considered to be a very good NHL prospect in his current stint in the AHL.

While his 25 goals and 58 points with Oshawa weren't exactly the numbers one might expect from a first-round draft pick, Jensen's play through six AHL games are sure to erase any doubts about his scoring ability. Since being assigned to the Chicago Wolves, the 19-year-old Danish winger has scored four goals in six games including a hat-trick in the Wolves regular season finale.

An imposing figure who is still filling out his 6'3, 190 pound frame, Jensen could very well end up being the type of player who excels more as a pro than he did in junior. A player with size, speed and smooth offensive skills is something that the Vancouver Canucks have lacked, making Jensen a very welcomed addition whenever he is deemed ready to make the jump to the NHL.

8. Matt Puempel, Peterborough Petes
NHL Rights: Ottawa Senators
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2011

In his rookie season with Peterborough, Puempel's 33 goals and 64 points earned him the CHL Rookie of the Year Award and had him looking like one of the top 1993 birthdates in all of hockey. Although he followed his rookie campaign up with another impressive scoring campaign last year, Puempel has since been slowed by two serious injuries.

The 19-year-old had hip surgery at the end of the 2010-11 season, but recovered in time to score 17 goals in 30 games this year. However, 30 games would be all Puempel would see as he would first be suspended for most of December then suffer a concussion in early January, missing the rest of his OHL year.

A natural goal-scorer with gifted offensive instincts and a quick release, Puempel has returned from his concussion and since played in nine games with the Binghamton Senators. One of Ottawa's three first-round picks in 2011, Puempel seems likely to return to Peterborough next year where he will hope to enjoy a full, injury-free season.

9. Shane Prince, Ottawa 67's
NHL Rights: Ottawa Senators
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2011

Tyler Toffoli's running-mate for the past two seasons in Ottawa, the American-born Prince is the third Ottawa Senators draft pick to make an appearance on the list. A player who has made tremendous strides since beginning his career with the Kitchener Rangers, Prince finished fourth in the OHL this year in goals with 43 and points with 90.

A second-round pick of the Senators in last year's draft, Prince is a smallish winger who makes up for his lack of size with his speed and elusiveness. Considered to be an offense first type of player, Prince has not been noted for his defensive play but has an impressive combined rating of plus-77 over the past two regular seasons.

The 19-year-old continues to light it up with Toffoli in the OHL playoffs where the dynamic duo has helped the 67's into the Eastern Conference Finals against the favored Niagara IceDogs.

10. Josh Shalla, Saginaw Spirit
NHL Rights: Nashville Predators
Drafted 4th round, 94th overall, 2011

An overage forward with the Saginaw Spirit, Shalla wrapped up his junior career with his second straight 40-goal season. Helping to spear-head the Saginaw attack alongside Brandon Saad and Florida draftee Vincent Trochek, Shalla found the back of the net 40 times and set a new career high in points with 76. He also played a key role in getting his team to the second round of the OHL playoffs by registering 14 points in 12 games before Saginaw was eliminated by the London Knights.

The 20-year-old is a goal-scoring power-forward who uses his size and strength to his advantage in the offensive zone. He has a knack for being in the right place around the goal area and then pouncing on any rebounds given up by the goaltender.

The biggest knock against Shalla has been his skating which isn't great and was the main reason he went undrafted in his first chance. However, continued improvement in that area coupled with his scoring ability still projects him to become a solid pro.

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