Quality, Quantity Among OHL Draft-Eligibles

By Bob Chery
There is an impressive array of both quality and quantity
available this year from the OHL for the 2001 NHL Draft,
particularly at center and defence at the high end. There is
considerably more depth when compared to the 2000 crop.

It’s still early and no doubt things will change as the young
players log more and more games and begin to adjust, improve,
and emerge, but here are the preliminary returns for the Top 20
as the season passes the quarter-pole :

1. JASON SPEZZA C, No Team – Awaiting a trade from the IceDogs,
it will be interesting to see how Spezza fares in a different
environment. What can I say about this much talked about
prospect without sounding redundant? Probably nothing.

Has size and a superstar quality skill-set, vision, and hockey
sense which makes him an offensive scoring machine, especially
on the power-play. Does not have superstar quality speed or
acceleration. Has a good, accurate shot with a quick release on
the wrister, not so quick on the slapper.

2. STEPHEN WEISS C, Plymouth – A great skater who can carry the
puck to openings and sees the ice well. Elusive. Has great
anticipation. Can run a power-play from the half-boards, and his
speed on the penalty-kill enables him to forecheck aggressively
and get back into his zone in plenty of time. Will play defence
deep in his own zone. Not quite prototypical size but he will go
to the boards to battle for the puck when he has to, can keep
his feet when being hit, but is at his best picking up the puck
as the third man in. Justin Williams is in the NHL and Tomas
Kurka has missed all but two games, otherwise Weiss might have
even bigger numbers.

3. MARK POPOVIC D, Toronto St. Michaels

4. TIM GLEASON D, Windsor

A defenceman that can play well at both ends of the rink is a
desirable commodity, and these two are the cream of the crop.

Popovic is a natural when it comes to the offensive aspects of
the game. He can carry the puck end-to-end and has a big shot
from the point that he can release effortlessly. In his first
OHL season, his defensive zone work left a lot to be desired.
Last year he showed glimpses of getting that aspect of his game
together. This year he has been more solid with errors less
frequent. He has a great work ethic and will continue to
improve.

Gleason is a better version of Barrett Jackman. He is a gifted
skater that plays solid and physical in his own zone with a mean
streak to boot. The offensive aspects of his game required
growth, and he’s getting it done, averaging a point-per-game. He
doesn’t have prototypical NHL-size so he won’t be as physically
imposing as he is at the junior level.

Right now Gleason is playing a bit better than Popovic, but
Mark’s size and natural instincts for the offensive game give
him slightly better upside, although that viewpoint could change
by the end of the year.

5. CHRIS THORBURN C, North Bay – The total package. Size, speed,
skill, toughness. At times it looks like Thorburn is playing the
game at a higher tempo than his team. He’ll fly through the
neutral zone without the puck looking for a pass, but will then
have to stop at the blueline and wait for his teammates to catch
up. Or he’ll get to the net in a few quick strides but then have
to stand there as his ‘mates fail to deliver him the puck. If
there is another younger player that could get a look from the
National Team for the year-end WJC, Thorburn could be that
player. He can play the game at NHL pace.

6. COLT KING LW, Guelph – Not only has this power-forward
emerged to score at better than a point-per-game pace, he has
also shown hard checks, soft hands, and good hockey sense to
boot. Scored a hat-trick versus Mississauga with three
carbon-copy goals : standing in front of the net and deflecting
the puck in mid-air. He skates well for a big man, can handle
the puck, can cycle, and fight off checks. He does a lot of
little things that suggest a good feel for the game. He’ll go
behind the net on defence, but knows when to forsake the big hit
and instead concentrate on not letting the puck get through. He
knows
when to head for the slot to pick up an opposing attacker. He
maneuvers smartly into open passing lanes in the offensive zone.
Substantial upside.

7. JAY HARRISON D, Brampton – A tough, mobile, stay-at-home
d-man with a mean streak and good size who keeps forwards to the
outside on the rush and clears enemy bodies from the crease. Has
a good first-pass for the transition game, but will not be a
high-scoring blue-liner at the NHL level.

8. AARON LOBB RW, London – A player with size, skating ability,
and good puck skills, Lobb is a player whose parts are greater
than their sum. But that is changing. He played a bit
tentatively at the beginning of the year, but is beginning to
assert himself. He’s throwing thunderous body-checks, dropping
the gloves, and beginning to put up the numbers. If anything,
he’s gotten such a surge of confidence that he’s over-handling
the puck. Like King, he has substantial upside.

9. JAY MCCLEMENT C, Brampton – Defence, speed, and the
transition game are McClement’s strengths. He will trouble-shoot
in the defensive zone and go where needed to win possession of
the puck. He then has the speed to catch up to the rush on
transition. Offensively he is functional rather than talented,
playing a supporting role rather than headlining scoring
opportunities. Seven of his 10 goals thus far have come on the
power-play. Projects to be a high-end 3rd-line center at the NHL
level that you put out against the other team’s #1 line, and who
can play on a scoring line in a pinch.

10. BRENDAN BELL D, Ottawa – Bell has dropped a few notches from
the pre-season rankings, in part because of the emergence of
others. He has a high skill-level, but needs to assert it more
consistently. He has good long-term potential, but as is the
case with Ottawa prospects (see Nick Boynton and many others)
Bell’s offensive flair may be harnessed to some degree under
Brian Kilrea.

11. CORY STILLMAN C, Kingston – The one noticeable thing missing
from Stillman’s repertoire is a second gear. He’s a decent
skater but has no acceleration. His wrist shot is high-caliber,
he has scored one or two Messier-type goals from the off-wing
off the wrong foot. Unlike say McClement, his goals are being
scored at even-strength (10 out of 11 thus far) and he may see a
significant boost in his numbers when he inherits 1st-unit PP
time from Zigomanis. He has good size, decent puck skills, works
hard at both ends of the rink, and plays a clean game along the
boards where he’ll take the body without racking up a lot of
penalty minutes.

12. LUKAS KRAJICEK D, Peterborough – As is the case with other
Euros such as Platil and Bakrlik from Barrie, a better
evaluation of Krajicek will be possible once he has had more
time to adjust to the North American game. He has unquestionable
skill and is a pleasure to watch skating laterally with the
puck, but he will have to iron out his decision-making and show
more physicalness in the defensive zone before moving up in the
rankings.

13. ADAM MUNRO G, Erie – If there is to be OHL representation
between the pipes at this year’s Prospects Game, it will be
provided by Munro. He relies on fundamentals rather than
athleticism, cutting down angles and covering the net as much as
possible so that the puck hits him. He is quick getting back
to his feet after going down. He does a good job of directing
rebounds away from the net when the shooters aim at the corners,
but he must improve his rebound control for pucks shot right at
him. He is an adequate puck-handler.

14. MATT GRENNIER C, Brampton – No, this isn’t Aaron Van Leusen
wearing a different jersey number, but another Battalion
prospect with major league wheels. Grennier projects as a
checking-line center who’s speed can be utilized for
penalty-killing and a deep forecheck to create turnovers. If his
offensive game grows, that
would be a bonus, but unexpected.

15. DREW FATA D, Toronto St. Michaels – Fata is getting his feet
wet as an OHL rookie, and after a flying start that saw him
average a point-per-game over the first seven games, has leveled
off offensively. Still, he has size, is a good skater, can rush
with the puck, and plays with an edge in his own end of the
rink.

16. NATHAN TENNANT D, Kingston – Among a group of less than
prototypical-sized offensive defencemen that include the likes
of Wideman, Colaiacovo, and Jarrett, Tennant can skate, an asset
that he uses for rushing the puck, keeping forwards to the
outside, and pressuring the puck on the penalty-kill, has a
booming slapshot from the point which he can get off regularly
which lends itself well to a power-play, and has some semblance
of physical play in the defensive zone. He will have to add bulk
to his 6-foot frame.

17. RYAN RAMSAY C, Peterborough – Among a group of under-sized
centers that include Roy, Himelfarb, and Wellwood, Ramsay plays
with the Doug Gilmour-type of edge necessary if one is to
overcome the size issues of playing in the NHL, and not get the
Brandon Reid treatment from NHL scouts. He shows no hesitancy in
going to the front of the net where he shows good hands in close
quarters, or going to the boards against two defenders to
contest the puck. He skates well and hustles at both ends of the
rink.

18. JUSTIN MCCUTCHEON RW, Kingston – The Frontenacs 1st-round
selection of the 2000 OHL Draft, McCutcheon is a heart-and-soul
type of player, the kind you want to go to war with. To
epitomize his play, he scored the year’s best goal earlier this
season at St. Mike’s Arena. On a failed pinch by his defenceman,
he
hustled back to the defensive zone to try and turn a 2-on-1 into
a 2-on-2. He didn’t quite get there, but he knocked the rebound
to the corner. He emerged from the scrum along the boards with
the puck, shook off a hit, beat a defenceman along the boards at
his own blue-line, kept going, threw a nice cross-ice pass which
sprung the left-winger for a breakaway, headed for the net and
cashed in the rebound. Canadian hockey at it’s best in a
15-second vignette, I’m surprised that it hasn’t reached “Coachs
Corner” yet. Heck, the Fronts’ even wear Bruins colours. Later
in
that third period he pancaked DeLeeuw with a hit. Earlier in the
game he mixed it up with Farquarson and Bootland. I guess nobody
told him that those were the three biggest guys on the Majors.
Or he didn’t care. Every dressing room needs a guy like this, he
could pan out to something between Jeff Odgers-Mike Keane.

19. CRAIG KENNEDY RW, Windsor – Kennedy could grow into a quiet,
efficient player who does nothing spectacularly but rather plays
a sound fundamental game in all three zones. He could play a bit
more physically, but there aren’t a lot of weaknesses to his
game. He can be a good complement to either a scoring or
checking line. He merits a close look as the season progresses.

20. ERIC HIMELFARB C, Sarnia – My early season darkhorse,
Himelfarb has emerged as a productive scorer at better than a
point-per-game clip. Has above-average skills and skating
ability. Like Ramsay, he’s going to have to demonstrate an
ability to play with an edge on a game-in, game-out basis to
overcome size concerns.