Top 25 OHL prospects for 2009

By Jason Menard

John Tavares hopes to be the third straight OHLer taken first overall in the NHL entry draft, following in the footsteps of Steven Stamkos and fellow former London Knight Pat Kane. This year’s crop of OHLers features a wide variety of prospects ranging from the sure-fire top picks (Tavares, Matt Duchene) to the wild-cards with potentially elite upside (Ryan Ellis, Nazem Kadri).

1. John Tavares, C, London

6′, 195

After several years under the microscope, Tavares-watchers spent more time this season searching out the center’s faults than admiring his accomplishments. Yes, Tavares is not the fastest skater on the ice; yes, his defense — while improving — remains passable at best. But what can’t be denied is Tavares’ incredible hockey sense and offensive ability.

After starring at the World Juniors, Tavares was traded to the London Knights and stepped into a leadership role on the club. Despite falling to Windsor, Tavares showed grit playing through a shoulder injury and chipping in with timely goals. He ended his season, and likely his OHL career, as the league’s all-time goal-scoring leader. The only question left now is whether Tavares will be selected first or second overall. But for a team searching for pure offensive ability, Tavares is a sure-fire bet in this year’s draft.

2. Matt Duchene, C, Brampton

5’11, 200

Earlier this year, Duchene made a charge for Tavares best-of breed title. But, in the end, he’s going to have to be satisfied to be looked upon as the draft’s most complete player. More a Steve Yzerman to Tavares’ Mike Bossy, Duchene played a key leadership role throughout the Battalion’s regular season and lengthy playoff run.

Duchene has impressive speed and checking ability, and this year he showed that he has outstanding hands and can come through the clutch. In 21 playoff games this season, Duchene scored 14 goals and added 12 assists. The Haliburton, ON native has solid, but not outstanding, size at 5’11, but it’s ability to play positionally sound hockey complemented by excellent speed that makes him an all-around threat on the ice.

3. Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor
5’9, 173
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The common refrain heard throughout the league is that if Ellis was just three inches taller, he’d be a sure-fire top-five selection. Unfortunately, in many ways, the NHL is a big man’s league and Ellis’ dynamic power-play quarterbacking abilities and offensive production may be overshadowed by his lack of height.

Ellis has an outstanding shot from the point and is consistently able to jump-start the offense with a well-timed pass or breakout through the defensive zone. He has also worked on his defensive abilities (leading the team at plus-52) and has drawn praise for his effort and leadership.

4. Zack Kassian, RW, Peterborough

6’3, 210
CSS 10 NA, ISS 20

The 6’3, 205-pound right winger is a prototypical power forward prospect. He has imposing size and has shown a willingness to use it. He enjoyed a breakthrough season this year, averaging over a point-per-game for the Petes while racking up 136 penalty minutes.

While he may not have as much offensive upside as some of the players who follow him in this list, Kassian’s total package of size, checking, and energetic play make him an appealing addition to a club looking for a top-six forward who can open up the ice for other teammates. An ability to put the puck in the net adds to his value as he has proven he won’t be an offensive liability with more skilled teammates.

5. Nazem Kadri, C, London
5’11, 170
CSS 15 NA, ISS 8

Kadri’s season has been one of ups and downs. An off-season trade to his hometown London Knights put him back in the championship chase, but a broken jaw suffered late in 2008 scuttled his dreams of suiting up for Team Canada. He lost some weight — and there’s not much to spare on his 6′, 175-pound frame — and struggled to regain his game in the latter part of the season.

Once projected as a sure-fire top-10 selection, Kadri’s draft status dropped significantly during the regular season, but began to climb back with a strong playoff performance. Offensively gifted and showing a greater appreciation for the defensive side of his game, Kadri could be a wild card in this draft. Teams picking in the latter-half of the lottery may look to scoop him up based on his offensive potential. However, he could just as easily slide into the high teens, early 20s based upon questionable scouting and combine results.

6. Peter Holland, C, Guelph

6’2, 185
CSS 19 NA, ISS 15

Another power forward prospect, Holland’s stock has slipped a bit from the combine, particularly the interview portion. On the ice, his hockey sense is not as good as those above him. However, his size, offensive talents, and willingness to play in front of the net make him an option for teams who miss out on Kassian. 

Holland is not as big as Kassian but still has time to grow and room on his frame to add weight. He has shown solid hands around the net and is noted for his ability to disrupt defensive sides with his forecheck.

7. Matt Clark, D, Brampton
6’3, 205
CSS 31 NA, ISS 90

Clark has prototypical size for a blueliner and is a well-regarded defensive defenseman. He proved to be a solid anchor for the Battalion’s blueline and finished the year at plus-21.

Clark’s never going to be a huge point producer at the next level, nor will he supply a lot of value on the power play, but he is consistently matched up against the opposing team’s top line and more often than not has proven that he can come out on top of those battles. He’s a smart player who prefers the safe, secure play to the exclusion of risky moves.

8. Ethan Werek, C, Kingston
6’1, 190
CSS 32 NA, ISS 26

The Goodwood, ON native has excellent size and reach, and has shown an aptitude at using both at both ends of the ice. He’s a solid two-way player who has shown a willingness to do the little things that help teams win. He’s excellent in front of the crease, a capable forechecker, and can be opportunistic around the net.

In addition to playing with an edge, Werek has displayed superlative passing abilities. He finished the season scoring at almost a point-per-game rate and projects as a solid third-line prospect with an ability to chip in offensively.

9. Calvin de Haan, D, Oshawa
6′, 170
CSS 25 NA, ISS 36

de Haan is a solid offensive defenseman who is a taller version of Ellis, without the upside potential. He finished the year with eight goals and 55 assists, and proved to be a welcome contributor to the Generals’ blueline.

de Haan’s greatest attribute is his outstanding skating. His fluid stride and quick feet allow him to play sound positional defense — and make up for any mistakes he may make. Physicality isn’t his strong suit right now with his slight frame, but he makes excellent decisions with the puck and interviewed well. 

10. Ryan O’Reilly, C, Erie
6′, 200
CSS 39 NA, ISS 50

There are concerns about O’Reilly’s skating, but to date he’s been able to compensate for any lack of speed in his feet with his speed between the ears. O’Reilly is a thinking-man’s hockey player who has excellent anticipation and knowledge of the game, which enables him to be in the right place at the right time.

O’Reilly’s proven to be an excellent penalty killer and excels at the defensive aspects of the game. He’s an excellent playmaker who has also shown an increasing aptitude for putting the puck in the net. He captained both the Otters and Team Canada at the U18s. He is the brother of the Nashville PredatorsCal O’Reilly.

11. Alex Hutchings, LW, Barrie

5’10, 175
CSS 44 NA, ISS 61

While this Colt may not have ideal height and size for an NHL player, he does have NHL-ready speed, which allows him to compensate for any lack of stature.

Hutchings scored 34 goals and added 34 assists in 64 games this season, leading the team in scoring as a 17-year-old. In addition, he was the club’s top plus/minus performer — a testament to his dedication to two-way play. And despite being younger and smaller than many of the people with whom he shared the ice, he impressed with his willingness to get his nose dirty and play an aggressive game.

12. Jesse Blacker, D, Windsor
6’1, 190
CSS 47 NA, ISS 62

In responding to questions about his durability following a 17-game injury-shortened season last year, the 6’1 Toronto, ON native answered many others about his draft ability.

Blacker was a solid complementary piece towards the Spitfires’ incredible Memorial Cup run. Playing the majority of his time on the second pairing, Blacker, as a 17-year-old, finished second to only Ellis with a plus-47 — without the benefit of Ellis’ offensive totals to power that number. Blacker was solid throughout the season, playing a positionally sound game, which helped him make smart defensive plays, rarely caught out of position and having to resort to taking reactionary penalties.

13. Matthew Hackett, G, Plymouth
6’2, 170

It’s not a deep draft for goaltenders this season, but Hackett may be the best of the bunch. One thing the London, ON native has going for him is bloodlines — he’s the nephew of long-time NHL netminder Jeff Hackett.

The younger Hackett laid claim to the Whalers’ crease by November and compiled a 34-15-3-0 record behind a 3.04 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He’s got excellent size and combines that with solid positioning. Hackett has a long way to go, but has shown a willingness to accept coaching and apply it to his on-ice performance.

14. Michael Latta, C, Guelph
5’11, 200
CSS 45 NA, ISS 60

At 5’11 and 185 pounds, Latta may not have ideal size for an NHLer, but he has shown that he has ample heart. He’s displayed a willingness bordering on zeal for competing in the corners and in front of the net, which is why the Storm paid a heft price in obtaining him from Ottawa in the Anthony Nigro trade.

Latta’s an effective playmaking center who improves his linemates both through skill and by setting an example on how to pay attention to the intangibles that separate winning teams from the masses. With 22 goals split between both Ottawa and Guelph, his offense isn’t staggering, but he’s expected to blossom over the next couple of seasons.

15. Taylor Doherty, D, Kingston
6’6, 220
CSS 58 NA, ISS 52

When it comes to the blueline, several teams place a premium on size — an asset that Doherty has in spades. At 6’6 and 220 pounds, Doherty still has room to fill out his already imposing frame.

Doherty does not project to be an offensive force from the blueline either in junior or in the pro ranks, but he has the size and the defensive mindset to be a less offensively-minded Zdeno Chara type of blueliner. This year he showed a greater understanding of using his body both in regards to positioning and in terms of physical play — to which his 140 PIMs can attest.

16. Scott Stajcer, G, Owen Sound

6’2, 180

The 6’2 netminder from Cambridge played behind a woeful Owen Sound squad, but was able to maintain an even record thanks to his improving play. Stajcer took over the starting role from Tyler Beskorowany (DAL), who began the season as the Attack’s starter.

Stajcer has the desired size for the NHL, but needs to work on his positioning to take the next step.

17. Taylor Beck, LW, Guelph

6’1, 205
CSS 48 NA, ISS 53

In his second OHL season, Beck made a huge jump in his progression and showed scouts that he’s a viable long-term power-forward type of prospect. He has good size and has shown this season an increasing willingness to drive to the net and camp in the tougher areas of the ice.

With 22 goals and 36 assists this season, Beck showed that his scoring and playmaking abilities were increasing, although he still has a long way to go in terms of his stride and skating ability.

18. Garrett Wilson, LW, Owen Sound

6’2, 200
CSS 66 NA, ISS 110

It was a tough season for Wilson. His year got off to an extremely slow start after he was assessed a 15-game suspension for a slew-footing incident against Dan Kelly, which sent the latter to the sidelines with a broken ankle. However, once he got back into the games, he showed a solid skill set that makes him an attractive later-round prospect for this year’s draft.

Wilson displayed a solid two-way game, scoring 17 goals in 55 games this season, while finishing minus-7 on a poor Owen Sound squad.

19. Jordan Szwarz, RW, Saginaw
5’10, 190
CSS 68 NA, ISS 169

Szwarz displayed on-ice smarts this season, and he’s also shown an aptitude for the books off of it. The Burlington, ON-born winger was a member of the OHL‘s all-academic team and the Spirit’s nominee for the Bobby Smith Award.

But, in this draft, his achievements off the ice would mean nothing if he wasn’t able to back it up on the ice. He contributed nicely to the Spirit’s offensive attack with 17 goals and 51 points. And he impressed at the combine as well. Despite his smallish stature, Szwarz tied for most bench press repetitions and was a standout on the anaerobic fitness test.

20. Edward Pasquale, G, Saginaw
6’2, 220

Pasquale saw a lot of rubber this season, consistently at the top of the OHL in terms of shots faced. And his resolve in the face of nightly barrages has improved his draft standing.

He has solid NHL netminder size and has shown an aptitude for positional play. He finished the year with a 3.11 GAA and .911 save percentage, earning third-team OHL All-star honors this season. Named player of the game at the top prospects game, he showed an ability to step up in marquee situations, which helped his stature in the eyes of the scouts.

21. Ben Chiarot, D, Guelph
6’2, 210
CSS 79 NA, ISS 162

Chiarot was slowly introduced into the Storm’s line-up during his first season, and that slow, patient process certainly paid off in spades this season. The Hamilton, ON native exploded this season and was a defensive rock on the Guelph blueline.

Chiarot finished the season plus-11 and finished second on the team with 111 PIMs. At 6’2, 210 lbs he’s got prototypical NHL size and this year he showed he was willing to throw it around. He has some offensive game (two goals, 10 assists), but he’s never going to be an elite offensive weapon. Rather his hallmarks are defensive play and physicality and he used this season to its fullest showcasing those abilities.

22. Matthew Tipoff, RW, Belleville

5’11, 180
CSS 94 NA, ISS 153

Tipoff enjoyed a steady rise up the draft boards this season, moving from the 150th-ranked North American prospect by CSS to where he may have established himself as a third or fourth-round-worthy selection.

Tipoff scored 13 goals and added 27 assists for the Bulls this season and he proved to have a knack for the timely goal. He’s a solid, but unspectacular, overall player with limited offensive upside.

23. Marcus Foligno, LW, Sudbury
6’2, 200
CSS 107 NA, ISS 99

For teams that value bloodlines, Foligno certainly has the pedigree to take his game to the next level. With a former NHLer as a father and an older brother playing in that league, the 6’2 winger is looking to follow along their well-trod path.

Foligno has shown a willingness and an aptitude for the physical side of the game. In his second full OHL season he also improved on his offensive game immeasurably. What’s lacking is a commitment to defensive responsibility — as evidenced by his minus-21 season totals, which were third-worst on the team. His physicality and aptitude for the grittier aspects of the game show that he has the potential to be a solid two-way player, but it’s something that a team will have to base its draft of this prospect on spec, as he hasn’t shown it yet.

24. Michael Zador, G, Oshawa

6’2, 172

Zador didn’t see much playing time this year, serving as a backup on both teams he played for. Zador was part of the Tavares trade, taking him from London to Oshawa.  He had more success in Oshawa, posting a team-best .901 save percentage and 3.65 GAA in 18 games.  He should be Oshawa’s starter next year.

Zador backstopped Team Canada in the U18 World Championships, and acquitted himself quite well, posting a .931 save percentage and 2.42 GAA in six games.

Other Notables: Kyle Clifford, Tyler Randell, Philip Varone, Scott Valentine