OHL Preseason Top 15

By Bob Chery
The OHL is off and running for the 2000-01 season, and as usual
I will be monitoring the progress of the players eligible for
the
2001 NHL Draft. This years crop already has one very high-
profile name, a few prospects that went straight to National
Junior Camps and by-passed younger National Teams, and as a
whole seems to have more depth when compared to the 2000
draft-class. Here’s a pre-season look at the Top 15 Prospects,
as
well as some other names to keep an eye on.

1. JASON SPEZZA C – Mississauga : No surprise here. As the
season progresses knocks against his skating will be heard. He
won’t get many breakaways but make no mistake about it, once
in the offensive zone he is a goal-producing machine with a
special talent level.

2. STEPHEN WEISS C – Plymouth : There may be some
perceptions that perhaps Weiss benefited from playing with top
notch line mates such as Tomas Kurka, but if anything it was the
other way around. A creative, highly skilled center with good
wheels, puck-handling ability, and vision.

3. MARK POPOVIC D – St. Michaels : The new captain of the
Majors, Popovic put up an impressive 40 points last year and
would be close to a point-per-game this year if his supporting
cast was better. He is improving his play in his own end of the
rink, and it remains the one area needing continual improvement.
Offensively he has all the tools.

4. TIM GLEASON D – Windsor : Gleason is solid in his own
end of the rink and loves to dish out the hits. He doesn’t have
the offensive skill of Popovic, but there is no better place to
develop that aspect of his game than under Tom Webster’s
system in Windsor.

5. JAY HARRISON D – Brampton : The prospect factory that
is the Brampton Battalion continues where it left off last
year.
A big, mobile defenceman with a mean streak, Harrison by-
passed the Under-18 National Team and went straight to the
National Junior Camp this past August.

6. BRENDAN BELL D – Ottawa : Bell has good size and
mobility, and can put up the offensive numbers. A member of
the National Under-18 Team, my biggest hope is that he stays
healthy when his 67’s are playing in the Greater Toronto area!

7. JAY MCCLEMENT C – Brampton : The 1st-round selection
(2nd over-all) of the Battalion in 1999, McClement impressed
right away as a checking-line center, but also has the ability
to
appreciably increase his offensive numbers. A solid two-way
player.

8. MIGUEL BEAUDRY G – Sudbury : The first ever pick of the
Bert Templeton Era, Beaudry has good fundamentals and reflexes.
He has already represented Canada at the International level,
and
becomes the #1 goalie for the Wolves after playing behind over-
ager Mike Gorman last year.

9. ERIC HIMELFARB C – Sarnia : My pre-season dark-horse,
Himelfarb has a good skill-level and gives 100% every shift.
He is a pesky player that is willing to get his nose dirty.
Plays
like a Dale Hunter without the penalty minutes.

10. DEREK ROY C – Kitchener : On skill-level alone, Roy should
be Top Three in this crop. Given that Brandon Reid was by-passed
in his first draft-eligible year and could do no better than a
8th-round
selection in the 2000 Draft, no matter what offensive numbers
last
year’s Rookie-of-the-Year puts up, his size (5-9, 170) will be
the
most quoted statistic with Derek.

11. COREY STILLMAN C – Kingston : The 5th overall pick of the
1999 OHL Draft, Stillman has good size and skills, and played
for
the Canadian Under-18 Team. The next step in his development is
to improve on the offensive numbers he put up last year.

12. CHRIS THORBURN C – North Bay : See Stillman above. The
6th overall pick of the 1999 OHL Draft. Good size and skills.
Also
played for the Canadian Under-18 Team, and his offensive numbers
were similar to Stillman. Must also step up his offensive
contributions, and whereas Stillman has the benefit of playing
behind Mike Zigomanis, Thorburn can take advantage of a weaker
lineup where he can play a prominent role, get lots of
power-play time, etc.

13. MATT GRENNIER C – Brampton : A gifted skater, Grennier can
give teammate Aaron Van Leusen a run for his money when it comes
to skating ability. He has the potential to be a high-end
checking center that can keep up with anybody, and he has the
size to boot. Matt should get the opportunity to develop into
that role right away as McClement graduates to a scoring line.

14. DENIS WIDEMAN D – Sudbury : Wideman’s forte is generating
offence, which he should have no problem doing at the junior
level.
To get to the next level, developing a bit more pace to his game
will
be his first priority.

15. JEFF DOYLE RW – St. Michael’s : Not only do power-forwards
take a longer time to develop, they also take longer to emerge.
Doyle is a truck that goes up and down his wing, always finishes
his check, and always goes to the net. He has a low center of
gravity that should lend itself well to absorbing hits and
protecting the puck. If he can turn his skating up a notch and
further improve his puck-handling, Jeff will be an attractive
power-forward package.

OTHER PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Keeping with the power-
forward theme, there aren’t any Taylor Pyatt’s among this year’s
OHL
draft-eligibles, but there are several candidates for modest
breakthroughs. ANDREW BROWN and COLT KING of Guelph, BRAD HORAN
of Kingston, AARON LOB of London, MATT BACON of North Bay, and
JON HOWSE of Peterborough appear to be the best of the group.

LUC CHIASSON of Sarnia and MATT ALBIANI of London have the
skill-level for potential breakthroughs this year as their roles
and ice-time increase from last year. Chiasson’s teammate, JASON
PENNER
, has the potential to become a physical checking center
in the Kris Vernarsky mold.

On the blue-line, Sudbury’s DREW KIVELL is a physical, crease-
clearing defenceman with the size that makes scouts take notice.
He dressed for all but four of the Wolves’ games last year, a
notable achievement given that it was a veteran-laden line-up.
MIKE SELLAN of St. Michael’s is another banger that has a
penchant for making the open-ice hit.

With a deep crop of draft-eligible offensive defencemen already
present, the next tier could be led by NATHAN TENNANT of
Kingston, COLE JARRETT of Plymouth, and CARLO COLAIACOVO of
Erie.

Between the pipes, it looks like there will be an appreciable
drop-off after Beaudry. Mississauga may be improved, but MICHAEL
MOLE
should still see a lot of rubber, and he’ll get most of the
starts now that over-ager Nick Foley is gone. PETER BUDAJ could
find himself in similar circumstances with St. Mike’s. Playing
time won’t be a problem, but they aren’t necessarily the best
prospects. ADAM MUNRO of Erie and ANDREW PENNER of North Bay
will have trouble getting their minutes, especially Penner who
has to play behind Alex Auld. Now that Reg Bourcier has
graduated from junior hockey, Kitchener’s SCOTT DICKIE will get
his minutes and could very well turn out to be the 2nd-best
draft-eligible goalie among OHLers after Beaudry.

Of course this list does not include any rookies or Euros of
draft-eligi
ble age that are making their OHL debuts this year
and may emerge. There’s always a few of them. It promises to be
an exciting year!

By the way, can anybody stop Plymouth?