Otters’ Burakovsky tops among drafted wingers playing in OHL

By Jason Menard

Andre Burakovsky - Erie Otters

Photo: Erie Otters forward and Washington Capitals prospect Andre Burakovsky has had a smooth transition to the North American game, notching 87 points in 57 games in 2013-14 (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The top 10 NHL-drafted wingers currently playing in the OHL aren’t overly large (a couple of notable exceptions, of course), but this year’s crop represents a collection of players who generally are solid defensively (or at least have shown that capability when they put their minds to it), and have the hands to chip in once in a while.

While the potential for mercurial, top-end talent may be few and far between, all 10 of these players likely will be solid contributors at the NHL level in the not-too-distant future.

1. Andre Burakovsky, LW, Erie Otters
NHL Rights: Washington Capitals (1st round, 23rd overall, 2013)

Burakovsky enjoyed a smooth first season in North America, transitioning strongly to the OHL and finishing amongst the league’s leaders in goals and points with 41 goals and 87 points in 57 games.

It would be hard to argue for a better landing spot for Burakovsky’s introduction to the North American style of game, as he was able to perform without the added pressure of leading a team. Playing on a second line behind stars like Dane Fox, Connor Brown, and Connor McDavid, Burakovsky was able to develop more at his own pace.

Promising for the Capitals is the fact that Burakovsky finished the long OHL campaign strongly, with eight goals and nine assists in seven March games. That offensive production has continued into the post-season, with Burakovsky notching six goals and one assist in the Otters' five-game series win over the Saginaw Spirit.

As Burakovsky was drafted by the NHL prior to the OHL, he is eligible to play in the AHL next season. That gives the Capitals some flexibility to determine his best course of development. He could enjoy a season dominating at the OHL level (and riding shotgun with the aforementioned phenom McDavid as both Brown and Fox will not be returning) and playing all facets of the game, or the Capitals may want to see how he progresses against older competition.

At 6’1” and 180 pounds, the 19-year-old Austrian-born Swede has some room to grow into his frame and may benefit from a steady progression through the ranks.

2. Connor Brown, RW, Erie Otters
NHL Rights: Toronto Maple Leafs (6th round, 156th overall, 2012)

It’s very hard not to put Brown at the top of this list as his prodigious goal-scoring talent is matched only by the quality of person he is off the ice. But in terms of long-term, high-end potential, Brown has more question marks than his teammate Burakovsky.

Playing alongside 64-goal-man Fox and phenom McDavid, Brown put on an impressive offensive display this year — nearly doubling his 69-point season from last year and markedly improving his two-way play. Brown finished by playing in all 68 games for the resurgent Otters, scoring 45 goals and adding 83 assists for a total of 128 points. And the winger who once finished a season -72 turned it around this year to end the campaign a +44.

Brown has continued his offensive production in the 2014 OHL playoffs, scoring two goals and adding six assists for eight points in the Otters' 4-1 series win over Saginaw.

The biggest knock on Brown is his size. Generously listed at 5’11" and weighing in anywhere between 160 and 170 pounds, Brown has to find a way to make his smaller frame work for him. And while some might suggest that he benefited from his linemates, it’s important to know that he brought out the best in a previously underwhelming Fox — and he was able to not only keep up with McDavid, but thrive alongside of him.

We have seen prodigious offensive talents in the OHL fade away at the pro ranks (paging Corey Locke), so it remains to be seen if Brown can translate his junior success to the next level.

Brown earned an assortment of honors in the OHL coaches’ poll, where he was named the third-smartest player, second-best penalty killer, and best shootout shooter.

3. Scott Kosmachuk, RW, Guelph Storm
NHL Rights: Winnipeg Jets (3rd round, 70th overall, 2012)

The Jets’ prospect plays much bigger than his six-foot frame would suggest, and that combination of grit and goal scoring should serve him well as he moves to the pro ranks next season.

Kosmachuk took on more of an offensive role with the high-powered, top-ranked Storm this season. He finished the season with 49 goals and 101 points, while only spending 83 minutes in the penalty box — this following back-to-back campaigns where he topped the century mark in penalty minutes.

The Richmond Hill, ON native has been a consistent offensive performer since taking a regular shift with the Storm. This year’s 49-goal campaign follows 35- and 30-goal seasons, respectively.

Listed at 6’ and 190 pounds, the 20-year-old winger may need to add a few more pounds of muscle to his frame to ensure that he can continue to play his heretofore successful style of game at the professional level. But as his third-place finish in the best skater ratings for the OHL coaches poll indicates, he has a variety of weapons at his disposal.

4. Brock McGinn, LW, Guelph Storm
NHL Rights: Carolina Hurricanes (2nd round, 47th overall, 2012)

McGinn played an integral role in driving the Storm to the top of the CHL rankings this season, playing an all-around game that’s drawn rave reviews and respect from those in the know throughout the league.

The 5’11” left winger appeared on four of the year-end coaches’ poll lists. And, while he didn’t win any of those categories, a quartet of runners-up combine to make him a fearsome opponent to face for anyone in the league.

He finished second in the poll for smartest player; second in hardest worker; second in hardest bodychecker; and third-best shootout shooter. In 58 games this year, he scored 43 goals and added 85 assists.

Last season, upon the Storm’s ouster from the playoffs, McGinn played four games with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Charlotte. Expect him to spend much more time there possibly this season, but most certainly next.

5. Max Domi, LW, London Knights
NHL Rights: Phoenix Coyotes (1st round, 12th overall, 2013)

For many this may be a “What?” pick for a couple of reasons. First, though Domi is listed in many places as a centre, the fact is that he has played the majority of his games on the wing in London. For others, they may think that Domi should be at the top of this list.

And they may be right.

Moreso than anyone on this list, Domi is the classic boom-or-bust prospect. At times he makes passes and plays that dazzle you and bring you out of your seat. Other times, his defensive lapses or turnovers after trying to deke the opposition single-handedly make you tear at your hair.

Only 5’9” and 185 pounds, Domi showed he could carry a team, posting ridiculous numbers when the Knights were without Bo Horvat, Nikita Zadorov, Josh Anderson, Anthony Stolarz, and Tim Bender for the World Junior Championship. More play like that, along with better integration with the team dynamic, and I’ll be happy to say that Domi would make me look like an idiot for his position on this list.

Domi has all the talent in the world, earning recognition as the third-best playmaker, second-best skater, and third-best stickhandler in the OHL coaches’ poll. He also has two very different examples in London of whom he can follow: it’s only up to him whether he decides to follow Pat Kane or Rob Schremp.

6. Josh Anderson, RW, London Knights
NHL Rights: Columbus Blue Jackets (4th round, 95th overall, 2012)

At 6’3” and 215 pounds, Anderson may be the most well-rounded player on this list. He has size, tenacity, defensive prowess, and has complemented that with a solid offensive game.

Last season, Anderson finished with 23 goals and 26 assists in 68 games. This season, he exceeded his overall point totals with 27 goals and 51 points in only 59 games. And he played fewer games this year because his two-way game earned him a roster spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Championship roster.

Anderson has a bright future at the next level because he focuses on doing all the little things well — and people are taking note. This year, he was named the Western Conference’s hardest worker and best bodychecker in the OHL coaches’ poll.

7. Nick Baptiste, RW, Sudbury Wolves
NHL Rights: Buffalo Sabres (3rd round, 69th overall, 2013)

Baptiste made a huge jump this season from being a solid contributor to the Sudbury Wolves to being a bonafide star with the club.

In 65 games this year, the 6’1” winger scored 45 goals and added 44 assists. He also plays with a bit of an edge to his game and is solid at both ends of the ice.

Only 18, Baptiste has plenty of time to fill out his 190-pound frame and should be a dominant, two-way forward in the OHL next season. His overall talent, defensive play, and nose for the net should hold him in good stead for the NHL, where he seems perfect for a third-line role.

8. Andreas Athanasiou, LW, Barrie Colts
NHL Rights: Detroit Red Wings (4th round, 110th overall, 2012)

The 19-year-old winger is deceptively large at 6’2” and 200 pounds, but what is most striking about Athanasiou is his speed. This year, he was able to combine that speed with a lethal finishing ability that rocketed him up the OHL scoring charts.

In 66 games this season with the Colts, Athanasiou finished with 49 goals and added 46 assists. The water in Barrie has served him well. After being traded from his hometown London Knights, he played at a point-per-game pace in Barrie last season. He broke out in the playoffs with 12 goals and 13 assists in 22 games last year.

Athanasiou has NHL-level speed right now. It remains to be seen whether he’s returned to the OHL next year or takes the step to the next level next season.

9. Gemel Smith, LW, London Knights
NHL Rights: Dallas Stars (4th round, 104th overall, 2012)

After spending the bulk of his career with the Owen Sound Attack, the 5’11” winger was traded to the London Knights mid-season for his second shot at the Memorial Cup. After a bit of a slow transition, Smith has shown why the Knights’ coveted his all-around game.

In addition to being a steady 20+ goal man (though this year he scored 37), Smith is also solid defensively and often takes a turn on the penalty kill.

Smith’s versatility will improve his stock within the Stars’ organization. Talent and skill-wise, Smith can play anywhere from a top-six role to a fourth-line defensive grinder.

10. Kerby Rychel, LW, Guelph Storm
NHL Rights: Columbus Blue Jackets (1st round, 19th overall, 2013)

Rychel is attractive as a power forward-type of player with a bit of an edge. Rychel continued to be a steady offensive influence no matter what team he played on. Starting the season in Windsor, Rychel was traded to Guelph and helped the Storm surge up the CHL rankings.

In 58 games this year across two teams, Rychel finished with an OHL-career high 90 points, including 34 goals. Rychel is a two-time 40-goal scorer in the OHL and plays a gritty style of game that can enrage his opponents, but endears him to his teammates.

At 6’1” and 205 pounds, Rychel has solid size but could probably stand to put on a few more pounds of muscle. And if that weren’t enough, he was recognized by the OHL’s coaches as having the second-best shot in the Western Conference.

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard