The OHL sends 7 blue-chip D-men to the NHL Draft

By Jared Hall

Expect to hear the names of OHL defencemen called early and often at this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft. This is a bumper crop of fleet-footed, skilled players, no lumbering oafs here. NHL central scouting has seven OHL defencemen rated among their top 30 North American prospects. Compare this total with three from the Western league and one each for the Q and the NCAA. Here’s a quick look at this bumper crop (in alpha order):

Lucas Krajicek

A classic European-trained player, skating and puck skills are his best assets. Straight-away speed keeps opposing fore-checkers honest and lets him cheat a little in the offensive zone much like Brian Leetch. Outstanding lateral mobility makes him tough to beat wide and tough to defend when quarterbacking the PP. He makes crisp tape-to-tape breakout passes and handles the puck with confidence whether on the rush or the PP. Not a heavyweight, he doesn’t intimidate the opposition physically but does finish his checks and battles hard in the trenches. This Czech could use more Petr Svoboda-style grit in his game.

Outlook: Skilled defencemen are always coveted but average size and lack of nastiness will likely a scare off a few teams. Watch for him to go mid to late in the first round.

Marc Popovic

Like Krajicek, his game revolves around skating and puck skills. Superior speed, agility and puck-handling let him dictate the pace of the game on many nights. He has a hard, low slapper from the point, a dangerous one-timer and has a knack for keeping pucks inside the blueline. On the breakout, he makes the safe play and rarely coughs up the puck or gets caught out of position. He plays in all situations and always logs big ice time. He shows maturity, leadership and discipline and the C he wears is well-deserved. A marquee player, he’s often the target of opposing antagonists but never hurts his team with retaliatory penalties.

Outlook: Another middleweight who doesn’t crash and bang much. He has all the tools to be a solid offensive defenceman without sacrificing play in his own end. He should be gone by the end of the first round. He could emerge as the best player of the seven listed here.

Tim Gleason

Yet another speedster, Gleason’s great wheels have carried him high up the scouting charts. He has a quick, powerful stride and moves well laterally making him a reliable penalty-killer and lets him recover if caught out of position. His puck skills are not equal to his skating but he has posted decent offensive numbers. He’s hard on the puck and clears the puck from his own end effectively. Defensively, he is aggressive and likes to initiate contact, at times sacrificing positional play for the big hit. High PIM totals give evidence of his physical, gritty style.

Outlook: Although not a towering player, Gleason’s overall package is consistent with the prototypical NHL defenceman. His stocky build, solid skills and grittiness remind me of Derek Morris. His hockey smarts have been questioned but he remains an outstanding prospect who could be the first OHL defenceman selected.

Jay Harrison

This former first overall OHL draft pick hasn’t quite lived up to expectations but remains a solid prospect thanks his size, strength and a nasty disposition. His offensive game is limited but he does pack a 95 mph howitzer from the point. For his size, Harrison is surprisingly fast and mobile, allowing him to cover a lot of ice quickly. He punishes opponents along the boards, in front of his net, and always stands up for his teammates. The knock against him is poor decision-making, opting for low percentage plays too often.
Outlook: In a perfect world, he’d develop into another Adam Foote. More realistically, he’s a project: a great physical package with edge waiting for the hockey sense to catch up. He’ll likely be available in the second round.

Carlo Colaiacovo

Steady is the word that comes to mind when describing Colaiacovo. Nothing really stands out with him but nothing hold him back either. He brings a complete skillset to the rink. His skating, passing and puck handling are all very strong. He sees the play well, knowing when to join to rush and when to hang back. In his own end, he covers the front of the net well, wins his share of battles in the corners and sustains a high level of intensity at all times. He leads by example and avoids taking bad penalties.

Outlook: With straight A’s on his report card, Carlo is near the top the class and should battle Gleason for the top OHL defenseman taken this weekend. Seems destined to be number 3-4 NHL defenseman some day.

Drew Fata

Like older brother Rico, drew is swift skater with high top speed and good lateral movement. Offensively, he is a confident puck-carrier, finds his teammates with crisp breakout passes and supports the rush well. Armed with a heavy shot, he teams effectively with Popovic on St. Mike’s top PP unit. A fearless defender, he uses his size and toughness to hammer opposing forwards at every opportunity. His penchant for big hits and physical play can take him out of position or lead to bad penalties. That said, it’s hard to have one without the other.

Outlook: Fata has a lot of game and looked very comfortable in St. Mike’s surprising run to the OHL semi-finals. Against such strong competition from his OHL peers, he may be the forgotten man draft day but deserves respect a legitimate high 2nd round prospect.

Brendan Bell

Another steady player much like Colaiacovo, Bell seems to make the game look easier than it is. He is a complete player with no glaring weaknesses. His speed and agility are very good as are his passing and puck-handling skills. He put up decent offensive numbers and was a mainstay on Ottawa’s second PP unit. Not a bruising player, he’s solid in his own end and clears his zone effectively. He’s a hard player to read: does he make the team better or does the team make him better? He’s probably not as tall as his listed height of 6’1.

Outlook: He’s a wild card. The real Brendan Bell should step forward next season when he’ll be thrust into the spotlight following the graduation of teammates Zion, Van Hoof and Sellars – all elite OHL defencemen. He should be chosen in rounds two or three.