The Big 4

By pbadmin
The Ontario Hockey League’s class of 2001 is looking very promising. With a solid core of
offensive gems and reliable rearguards, this year might be the most productive in recent memory
when it comes to the players developing into quality NHL players. Leading the pack is the highly
touted Jason Spezza of the Mississauga Ice Dogs. Spezza, in his 3rd full OHL season, has a very
good chance of being chosen 1st overall, and making an impact in the not so distant future in
the NHL. Also rated is Stephen Weiss of the Plymouth Whalers. As a rookie last season, Weiss
turned heads with his excellent on-ice vision, and maturity. These 2 players will certainly lead
the OHL into next year’s draft, and represent the offensive capabilities of the league, but the
show will then be focused over to four of the most talented defensemen that the OHL has ever
witnessed.

Leading the crop is Tim Gleason of the Windsor Spitfires. Gleason, in his 2nd season, can do it
all. His speed is his best asset, with end to end capabilities. Make sure to watch for him when
he visits your team’s rink. I can assure you that you have never seen a more powerful, more
agile skater. He is excellent in his own end, making the big plays in front of the net and in
the corners. He is not afraid to mix it up, as his grit and toughness aids well in making him a
solid defensive defenceman. A good example of this is last year’s 1st round playoff matchup vs.
Sarnia when he absolutely shut down Sarnia forward Jeff Hereema, leaving him frustrated every
night. Gleason is just magnificent to watch whenever he is on the ice. Not only does he dominate
in his own end, but he is an active performer in the offensive zone. He has great vision from
the blueline, and a powerful shot. As a 16 year old with the team last season, he kept a calm
head throughout all situations he was placed in. His maturity level is sky high and is a sound leader for Windsor, through example and on
the bench. He is simply an all-around contributor to his team, and will one day be an impact
player in the NHL.

Speed - A+
Defensive Game - A
Neutral Zone Coverage - A+
Offensive Game - B+
Toughness - B+
Leadership - B

Jay Harrison, the 1998 1st overall selection in the OHL Draft, will eventually become an
all-around strong performer. Placed in a tougher situation than most players are used to, (a 1st
year expansion club) he performed beyond expectations providing a much needed aggressive aspect
to his team. He is a big guy (6’3, 205lbs) who can really skate well. He does not possess the
overall raw talent that Gleason does, but he is your typical NHL defenceman. Big, tough, and
mobile. One aspect that is being developed slowly is his offensive game. Expect him to have some
good numbers this year after studying the likes of former teammate Rostislav Klesla, who became
one of the OHL’s better offensive defenceman. He has a big shot, and is a good passer, only a
plus for his development offensively. Harrison is not the type of defenceman that most relate to
when the words ‘big’ and ‘tough’ are mentioned. He is intelligent, and knows when to show his
aggressive streak. He is phenomenal in his own end, and basically does what most NHL scouts look for, the simple things. He makes the big hit
in the corner, and clears his zone. He is terrific in front of his own net as well, using his
big body effectively. He also is a true team leader, one of the reasons why Brampton has become
of the best franchises in the league in such a short time.

Speed - C+
Defensive Game - A+
Neutral Zone Coverage - B+
Offensive Game - C+ (and rising..)
Toughness - A+
Leadership - A+

Toronto St. Mike’s defenceman Mark Popovic has very little to develop it seems. In his 2 seasons
with the Majors, Popovic has developed in becoming an offensive leader, has become the defensive
leader, and is also the captain. Popovic plays with maturity and leadership well beyond his
years, which should play really well with scouts. It shows in his play as well after putting up
an impressive 40 points. He began in the same situation as Harrison, a quality defenceman with a
less than stellar supporting cast. Yet like Harrison, it fared rather well in his development.
Popovic is looked at to be more of an offensive defenceman, but his defensive skills are steady,
but he might need to get a little tougher for the next big step into the NHL. He is certainly
the dream prospect with all the tools, but may lack the little things that Gleason and Harrison
have, such as skating ability and toughness. This is nothing Popovic can’t develop this season
in preparation for the draft.

Speed - B
Defensive Game - B
Neutral Zone Coverage - B-
Offensive Game - A+
Toughness - C
Leadership - A+

Ottawa 67’s 2nd year blueliner Brendan Bell has all the makings to become a top quality
prospect. He has excellent mobility and rather soft hands, two qualities not easy to find in a
big defenceman. He was drafted out of Ottawa Jr. A which means that he has good experience
playing in a top notch league before the OHL. In his rookie year, the experience paid off as
his confidence and mature thinking enabled him to log plenty of ice time with a deep 67’s club.
He ended up with 32 assists, 1 shy of fellow teammate, and fellow rearguard Jonathan Zion. Look
for Bell to increase his already steady offensive output this season, as he needs to display his
fantastic offensive skills as much as he can in preparation for the draft. Bell has a big body,
and he must learn to use it effectively in order to become a solid defensive defenceman. He has
all the main ingredients down, now all he has to do is spice them up a bit. He is excellent in
the neutral as his quick hands allow him to intercept, as well as create passes. His offence needs little improving, it’s all there. He must
learn to be more aggressive, both in the corners and in front of the net. Bell has been the most
talked about defensive prospect, and this year is the year he has it all come together. He has
the proper tools in place in order to be a sound, effective defenceman.

Speed - B
Defensive Game - B+
Neutral Zone Coverage - A
Offensive Game - A+
Toughness - C
Leadership - C+

The Ontario Hockey League certainly looks as though it is ready to unveil a whole new generation
of blueliners this season. With the speed of Gleason, toughness of Harrison, creativity of
Popovic, and vision of Bell, the OHL has the future of the NHL blueline awaiting.