It was a refrain heard often in the House of Green when certain teams would visit the John Labatt Centre. The words, in one form or another, were "You could have three of the top-10 draft picks this year playing on the ice."
Scout after scout agreed that the OHL was blessed with elite talent this year. Getting them to agree on an order, however, that was the challenge. For every person who loved Sam Gagner‘s hockey sense, there was another who loved Pat Kane’s offensive brilliance, Logan Couture‘s all-around game, or Stefan Legein‘s speed.
And while the WHL may be the deepest of all the junior leagues in terms of overall talent, it’s safe to say that when it comes to mercurial, high-end, team-defining players, the OHL is the place to look.
Another point of interest this year was the consolidation of talent. Expect to hear the cities of Erie, London, and Kitchener mentioned early and often, as the clubs amassed – and continue to add – high-end talent in pursuit of the Memorial Cup.
1. Pat Kane, F, London Knights
Nov. 19, 1988
The one thing about being a late ’88 birthday, as Kane is, is that some people question the comparison against players who may be almost a full year younger than him. However, when you display superlative gifts like Kane has in his rookie OHL season, those doubts are quickly washed away.
En route to earning CHL rookie of the year honors, Kane posted outstanding numbers scoring 62 goals and adding 83 assists in 58 games. In addition, the Buffalo native was a key performer on the U.S. World Junior Championship squad. Kane may not be the largest player in the game at 5’10, but he’s got good leg strength, other-worldly puck-handling skills, and a nose for the net that have many pundits expecting he’ll go first overall to the Chicago Blackhawks.
2. Sam Gagner, C, London Knights
Aug. 10, 1989
Kane’s frequent running mate, the two words affiliated with Gagner are hockey and sense. He has an uncanny ability to not just see what’s happening on the ice, but to also project what’s going to happen. Gagner, who has grown up in a hockey environment under the tutelage of father (and current coach) Dave Gagner, understands the game like few other prospects.
This season, Gagner scored 35 goals and added 83 assists in 53 games. He was a 17-year-old member of the Canadian World Junior club, but didn’t see much ice time during the tournament. Upon his return, Gagner also suffered an injury that kept him out of some games and slowed his progress upon his return. Although young, Gagner showed a great deal of leadership on and off the ice and projects to be a solid offensive-minded center, with a capable understanding of defensive play.
3. Logan Couture, C, Ottawa 67’s
Mar. 28, 1989
Couture’s desire and passion for playing may have ended up hurting him more than any opposition player could have. Last year at this time, the London, ON native was talked in reverential tones along with Quebec’s Angelo Esposito as potential first-overall selections. However, his desire to fight through a bout of mononucleosis diminished his overall effectiveness and set him back all season long.
Regardless, in 54 games Couture scored 26 goals en route to 78 points and displayed the solid, two-way commitment to the game that originally set scouts’ hearts on fire. Compared favorably to two-way stalwarts like Steve Yzerman, Couture is a wild card in this year’s draft. He could fall out of the top 10 if teams fear his illness-depleted season is a sign of things to come, or he could be snapped up early by a team willing to look past the mono to the potential he displayed in years previous.
4. Stefan Legein, F, Mississauga Ice Dogs
Nov. 24, 1988
Legein is another late ’88 birthday who has been somewhat polarizing amongst teams. Blessed with blazing speed, the Oakville, ON native plays a game tailor-made for the new, less-restrictive NHL. However, others see his draft-eligible season explosion as the potential for being a flash in the pan.
Beyond solid offensive play (43 goals in 64 game) and speed, Legein brings a certain feistiness to his game. This year marked his second consecutive year with over 100 penalty minutes to his name. His work ethic and dedication to improving his game have been lauded by coaches, teammates, and scouts alike.
5. Brett MacLean, F, Oshawa Generals
Dec. 14, 1988
The Port Elgin native hit the logistical jackpot this season being paired up with wunderkind John Tavares with the Generals this season. And while some may suggest that any player would be able to post impressive numbers riding shotgun with the consensus 2008 No. 1 pick, MacLean has dodged this criticism through his willingness to play in the tough parts of the rink and usually come out with the puck.
Solid hands and an ability to finish (47 goals in 68 games) are the Port Elgin, ON’s strong points, while a less-refined skating technique is something that needs to be worked on for the 6′ forward to get to the next level.
6. Nick Spaling, C, Kitchener Rangers
Sept. 19, 1988
The Drayton, ON native is one of those glue guys who are integral for any winning team. While he doesn’t excel at any one thing, Spaling has shown an impressive ability to be solid in all aspects of the game: offensive, defensive, and special teams.
This season, Spaling took on more of an offensive role, with 59 points in 61 games. He also showed an ability to perform in his end of the rink, anchoring the defensive zone for his Rangers teammates. While few expect Spaling to tear up the professional ranks offensively, he has all the tools needed to be an effective – and valued – member of any franchise in a two-way or defensive checking role.
7. Akim Aliu, C, London Knights
Apr. 24, 1989
Aliu has all the characteristics of your prototypical power forward. He’s big – at 6’3, 209 pounds – and he’s got enough of a puck sense to score 42 points in 53 games, buoyed by 20 goals. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dark cloud hanging over the player.
Obviously, most conversations begin with the challenges he faced due to a hazing incident back in Windsor. As well, Aliu now finds himself on his third OHL team due to an off-season trade to the London Knights. Finally, he’s starting to develop a reputation for his play falling off when the pressure’s on – one point in six playoff games in 2006, six points, and one goal, in 21 games this year during the playoffs. Yet, if the storm clouds ever disperse – and perhaps an early-round selection is just the event to do that – Aliu has all the tools to be a force in the professional ranks. He just needs to find that proverbial tool box.
8. Mark Katic, D, Sarnia Sting
May 9, 1989
Conversely, Katic had the tools, had the toolbox – and seemingly lost them this season. After a breakthrough rookie campaign with the Sting in which he heralded his arrival as an offensive force from the blueline with 34 points in 51 games, Katic seemed to stumble this season, matching his goal totals with five, but only getting six more total points despite playing more games (17) and logging more minutes.
The problem appears to be that Katic got away from being who he was and tried to hard to be what people told him to be. Whether that was coaches, friends, or others trying to get him to the next level, Katic got away from the smooth-skating, sensible play that highlighted his rookie year. If he gets back to the basics, focuses on making that smart first pass, and concentrates on his skating and positioning, some team could find themselves with a steal in this year’s draft.
9. Trevor Cann, G, Peterborough Petes
Mar. 30, 1989
One day Cann and the netminder who immediately follows him on this list may separate themselves – just not today. There’s not much to choose from between the two netminders in terms of play, potential, and performance. However, Cann gets the nod here based in large part on his experience and his proven performance.
The 5’11, Oakville, ON native posted respectable numbers this season with a 3.69 GAA and .909 save percentage over 62 games for a struggling Petes franchise, which was reflected in his 23-32-5 record. A last-minute addition to the Canadian World Junior camp, Cann performed admirably under duress all season and has the makings of a solid netminder.
10. Jeremy Smith, G, Plymouth Whalers
Apr. 13, 1989
Smith shares Cann’s ability, but has yet to have the same opportunity as his Canadian counterpart. The Brownstone Township, MI native has a size advantage on Cann, measuring in at 6’1, but he’s much more of an unknown quantity.
Smith only saw action in 35 games, posting a 2.59 GAA and a .923 for the OHL champion Whalers. In addition, he was playing against lesser teams and behind a very talented, defensive-minded club that frequently overwhelmed its opposition. That being said, take nothing away from Smith’s performances as he held up well no matter what was thrown at him and he too is a steady, if unspectacular, goaltending prospect.
11. Yannick Weber, D, Kitchener Rangers
Sept. 23, 1988
This Swiss blueliner adjusted quite well to the demands of the North American game and became an integral part of the Rangers’ blueline corps in his rookie season. Not blessed with outstanding size – he measures in at a respectable 5’10, 195 pounds – the Bern native tallied 41 points in 51 games in his freshman OHL year.
In addition to displaying solid defensive responsibility, Weber displayed a nose for the net and value on the power play unit. He scored 13 goals during the regular season and his performance didn’t tail off when the pressure was ratcheted up – averaging a point-per-game in his nine playoff contests. While he may not have the upside of a Katic, he’s far less mercurial in temperament and performance and could be the safer pick for a club looking for depth defensemen.
12. Bryan Cameron, C, Belleville Bulls
Feb. 25, 1989
It comes as no surprise that Cameron has taken on a leadership role with the Belleville Bulls in his second season. After all, the Brampton, ON product was the captain of a midget squad that featured a player by the name of John Tavares. While no one’s expecting Cameron to put up Tavares-esque numbers offensively, he has been counted on to play a solid overall game – and he’s delivered.
His sophomore OHL campaign has been one of steady, yet marked development. He doubled his point totals to 58 over four fewer games this season (60 this year), and continued to provide solid point production in the playoffs with 12 points in 15 games. At 6′, 175 pounds, Cameron plays with a grit that belies his slight build, but rarely goes past the line – with only 46 and 50 penalty minutes in his two season. Cameron is another of a deep pool of solid, two-way OHL prospects.
13. Zach Torquato, C, Erie Otters
June 8, 1989
Torquato made the trip from the penthouse to the outhouse this season in the OHL, but you would never tell by his attitude or on-ice performance. After being traded from the Saginaw Spirit to the Otters mid-season, Torquato was immediately given a letter and displayed the solid on-ice leadership he’s known for.
In 40 games with the bottom-feeding Otters, Torquato accounted for 46 points – a similar pace to what he was at in Saginaw where he scored 24 points in 22 games. He’s a player who plays larger than his 6′ size and has helped his linemates – including fellow draft-eligible prospect Nick Palmeiri perform better this season. In the end, Torquato projects to be a solid complementary player with a nice offensive potential.
14. Josh Kidd, D, Erie Otters
Nov. 16, 1988
Another late ’88, Kidd’s age may, in fact, work to his advantage. After all, the conventional wisdom is that defensive prospects take longer to develop and mature later. But age ain’t nothing but a number, as they say – and the numbers that matter most are 6’4.
Kidd is a throwback to the big, bruising defensemen of the past. And while he’s still slight of frame, there’s plenty of room to bulk up and complement his solid two-way play with a little extra power. This season, Kidd stepped up offensively, leading the offense-challenged Otters from the point with 27 points. In the end, you can’t teach size – and Kidd would be a welcome sight for many teams in keeping their creases clear.
15. Nick Palmieri, F, Erie Otters
July 12, 1989
The third amigo, as it were, Palmeiri is the 6’3, 215-pound robust Ying to Zach Torquato‘s offensive-minded Yang. However, beyond bringing the beef Palmieri showed that he can do some damage once he takes up residence in front of the opposition net.
In 56 games, Palmieri scored 24 goals, added 21 assists, and spend 99 minutes in the penalty box. There is a school of thought that the new anti-obstruction rules best serve the big, skilled forwards as it’s harder to impede them and prevent them from getting those big bodies where they want to be. Palmieri could very well develop into a solid power forward prospect – all he needs to work on is his consistency.
16. Dale Mitchell, F, Oshawa Generals
Apr. 9, 1989
Five to 10 years ago, Mitchell would have been the type of forward who would find his name far down this list – if at all. Measuring in at only 5’9, many teams would have passed him by. But this is the new obstruction-light NHL and that – combined with his 210-pound bull-in-a-china-shop frame – means that Mitchell’s an offensive dynamo who could find himself a home in the pro ranks.
Small, bullish, and with a low center of gravity, Mitchell is hard to knock off the puck. And once he has it in his possession, he knows what to do with it, as evidenced by his 80 points on 43 goals in 67 games. The post-season wasn’t as kind to Mitchell with only five points and one goal in nine games, but he could become a nice mid to late-round surprise for some team willing to take a chance.
17. Roberto Bortuzzo, D, Kitchener Rangers
Mar. 18, 1989
At 6’4 and already 205 pounds, the 18-year-old blueliner has already filled out a lot of his frame, yet still has room to grow. And, as a solid stay-at-home type blueliner, the Thunder Bay product has the size and presence to keep opposition forwards clear of his goalie’s goalmouth.
Bortuzzo’s offensive game is still in its infancy, as he only accounted for 14 points in 63 games. And his shot isn’t exactly leaving anyone quaking in fear with only two goals to his name this year. However, if a club is looking to make a sizable investment in keeping pucks out of their own net, then a defensive defenseman like Bortuzzo’s ripe for the picking.
18. Dan Kelly, D, Kitchener Rangers
May 17, 1989
The Rangers have been known for the past couple of seasons for their imposing defensive corps – and Kelly’s a big part of that. While not blessed with the phenomenal size of a Bortuzzo or the elite offensive dash of a Weber, Kelly plays a nice hybrid game, that’s attractive to teams looking for a versatile blueliner to add to their roster.
In 59 games during his rookie season, Kelly failed to bulge the twine. However, he proved himself adept at setting up his teammates with 19 assists over that time frame. The Morrisonville, NY native isn’t going to push too many people around at 6′, 171, but he’s shown an ability to control the zone by making the smart first pass and has developed a solid game based on proper positioning.
19. Gianluca Caputi, F, Mississauga Ice Dogs
Oct. 1, 1988
If one’s looking for battle-hardened forwards, one could do worse than Luca Caputi. The Ice Dogs’ season got off to a rocky start with the questions regarding transfers, moving, and behind-the-scenes franchise issues. But on the ice, Caputi turned in a solid performance with 27 goals and 65 points in 68 games.
The 6’3, 209-pound forward showed he could be physical without getting stupid, racking up just 66 minutes in penalties all season. His brief playoff stint was unremarkable, but also not offensive – three points in five games and no penalties as he showed restraint when necessary.
20. Matt Lahey, F, Ottawa 67’s
Dec. 28, 1988
Another late ’88 birthday, Lahey used the extra year to show his continued development as a solid contributor to the 67’s cause. While not overwhelming, his 21 goals and 25 assists in 61 games were a solid upgrade over his 2005-06 totals, showing that he’s continued along the path of slow and steady growth.
At 6’1, Lahey has good size for a forward prospect, but at 184 pounds, he’s not exactly throwing his weight around in front of the net. At this point in the rankings, we’re looking at solid complementary players with some upside, which is a description that fits the Oshawa, ON native to a T.
21. Eric Tangradi, C – Belleville Bulls
Feb. 10, 1989
Size still matters and a 6’3, the Bulls’ center has a build that should be worthy of someone taking a mid-to-late-round flier on the Philadelphia, PA native. Although his offensive numbers weren’t overwhelming with only 20 points and five goals in 65 games during his rookie season, Tangradi’s improved performance in the playoffs may have raised his profile in some teams’ eyes.
In 15 playoff games, Tangradi performed at better than a point-per-game clip, scoring eight goals and adding nine assists. He also added a bit of grit to his game, racking up 14 penalty minutes after only spending 32 minutes in the box all season long. You can’t teach size and teams looking for depth up the middle may place a larger value on Tangradi’s potential.
22. Mickey Renaud, C – Windsor Spitfires
Oct. 5, 1989
Another center with size, Renaud displayed solid development in his sophomore season in the OHL, doubling his rookie point totals with 54 points in 68 games. At 6’2 and 195 pounds, Renaud is a potential pick with the opportunity to add some muscle to his frame and develop into a strong depth player.
In addition, after notching eight goals in his rookie season, Renaud lit the lamp 22 times in his second season, showing that there’s some solid offensive potential wrapped up in that sizable package.
23. Aaron Alphonso, F – Ottawa 67’s
Nov. 14, 1988
In his third season in the OHL, this late ’88 finally blossomed into a key contributor for the 67’s. After back-to-back seasons with just four and five goals respectively, Alphonso comparatively exploded with 17 goals and adding 23 assists in 54 games.
One thing that may worry scouts is that Alphonso has had difficulty staying in the lineup for an entire season. He’s played in 59, 43, and 54 games respectively over his three seasons and his potential may be devalued by those looking at whether the product of Orangeville, ON is too injury prone to get to the next level.
24. P.K. Subban, D — Belleville Bulls
May 13, 1989
Teams looking for a long-term project with tremendous offensive potential from the blueline may send the 5’10 Subban higher up the draft boards. After a passable rookie season with the Bulls wherein he accounted for 12 points, he exploded this year posting totals of 15 goals and 41 assists in 68 games.
The problem is, for a kid with the initials P.K., he shows no inclination for playing any sort of defensive role. In many ways, he’s a defenseman in name only, regularly sacrificing good positioning to make a foray into the offensive end. If some team thinks they can rein in his freelancing ways – or maybe convert him into a forward – then the offensive potential is there. Otherwise, take note – there is absolutely no "D" in P.K. Subban‘s name or game.
25. Patrick Lusnak, F – Sudbury Wolves
Nov. 6, 1988
Lusnak rode the waves of success with the Wolves in the regular season, ending up with 17 goals and 42 points in 67 games. Unfortunately, he disappeared in large part during the playoffs, scoring but one goal and adding eight helpers in the 21 games of the Wolves’ surprising playoff run.
At 5’10, Lusnak has average size, has an average offensive game, and may be below-average defensively. He’s seen time on the power play and could be a worthwhile long-range prospect, but teams looking for any immediate return will shy away from him.
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