Ten OHL players to watch for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft

By Jason Ahrens

The 2005-06 OHL preseason is well underway and the regular season is not too far off. The OHL appears poised to follow up on a strong 2005 NHL draft in which they had nine first round picks and 43 players in total selected in the seven-round draft. The 2006 draft is shaping up to be one that might be the best ever for American born players, but the OHL will leave its mark on the first round and all the rounds that follow.

Here is a look at ten OHL players, nine Canadians and one American, who are eligible for the 2006 NHL entry draft. This is not intended to be a top 10 list — several of these players would be on any such list, but rather ten players to watch for various reasons.

Jordan Staal, C – Peterborough Petes
6’3, 200 lbs, September 10, 1988

Jordan Staal has seen older brothers Eric (3rd overall in 2003 to Carolina) and Marc (12th overall in 2005 to NY Rangers) make names for themselves and he is on the verge of following in their footsteps. Jordan could be a top five pick in the next entry draft. Staal had a solid rookie year with the Petes picking up 28 points in 66 games playing on the third or fourth line. He really showed his potential in two different stretches of the season. At the Under 17 tournament he excelled for Team Ontario when playing against his peers. In the OHL playoffs he might have been the best player on the Petes in the first round and played well all the way through.

Staal played for Team Canada at the Under 18 tournament in August and helped Canada win a gold medal.

Bryan Little, C – Barrie Colts
5’11, 193 lbs, November 12, 1987

The Colts did not have any players selected in the 2005 NHL entry draft, but Little will change that in 2006 and he has first-round skill. He put up 68 points in 62 games last season, a great goal scorer who is very dangerous down low and he can hurt you in a great many ways. He is a touch smaller than the average forward at 5’11, but he makes up for it with his dazzling moves and hockey sense.

Little helped Canada win a gold medal at the Under 18 tournament in 2004. He was also selected to play for Team OHL during the Canada-Russia Challenge Series. He is the only player discussed here who was born in 1987.

John DeGray, D – Brampton Battalion
6’3, 202 lbs, March 14, 1988

DeGray has the tools to be a dominant defenseman in the OHL and could be a very high first round pick. He brings a blend of toughness and skill that is rare to find in a blueliner. The OHL has probably not seen a player in his mold since Ed Jovanovski patrolled the blue line for Windsor.

Degray played for Team Ontario in the Under 17 tournament and was selected to play for Team Canada in the Under 18 Championships in August of 2005, bringing home a gold medal.

Jamie McGinn, LW – Ottawa 67s
6’0, 183 lbs, August 5, 1988

McGinn was a third round pick of the 67s as he was lost in the shuffle on a very strong North York Minor Midget team. He had a great rookie year in Ottawa and played a lot on the top two lines and didn’t look out of place at all. McGinn had 22 points in 59 games. He drives the net well, has a good skating stride, he finishes his checks and is a good passer. He was one of the most consistent players on a very inconsistent team. McGinn is very feisty and competes hard in the corners and despite being younger and lighter than most of his opponents, he was always strong on the puck and hard to knock off balance.

He was hurt in the second game of the OHL final and that was a very tough loss for the 67s to overcome and they ended up losing three straight games without him in the lineup. He played a very strong Memorial Cup.

McGinn has played for Team Ontario in the Under 17 tournament and was selected to play for Team Canada at the Under 18 tournament and brought home a gold.

Bob Sanguinetti, D – Owen Sound Attack
6’1, 183 lbs, February 29, 1988

This leap year baby stepped into the OHL and after a rough first month or two, became one of the best defensemen on the Attack, a team with the second best record in the league. The New Jersey native is another coup from the States for the Attack who had convinced Bobby Ryan to come up a year before and Ryan was the second pick overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 2005 NHL entry draft.

Sanguinetti plays a smooth as silk game and has a lot of offensive upside and is strong in his own end. In fact, many observers point to his injury early in the second round as one of the main reasons that the Attack were swept away by the Kitchener Rangers.

Ryan McDonough, C – Saginaw Spirit
5’10, 175 lbs, January 2, 1988

A former teammate of McGinn in Midget, McDonough tore up the competition in minor hockey scoring 82 points in 29 games, which led the Sudbury Wolves to draft him in the first round, fifth overall in the 2004 OHL draft. He got off to a strong start and was putting up decent points while playing beside Benoit Pouliot who would go on to be the CHL Rookie of the Year and be selected fourth overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2005 entry draft.

McDonough played for Team Ontario in the Under 17 tournament and although he led the team in scoring, most of the points were racked up against the weaker teams and he didn’t produce when the team had a chance to win a medal and they ended up in fourth place.

He had a miserable second half with the Wolves, saw less and less ice and asked for a trade once the season was over and was sent to the Spirit. He tallied 37 points in 58 games in his rookie season.

It will be a good reminder for McDonough when he sits in the dressing room and looks at new teammate Tom Mannino, that skill alone will not get you drafted. Mannino is on his third OHL team in his short career and was passed over in the 2005 entry draft despite having lots of offensive tools. The players have a lot in common on the ice and off the ice, and if they get their acts together they could be dynamite on the ice. If they learn to play both ways and shake some negative reputations that follow them around, they will be taken in the 2006 draft.

Justin Azevedo, C – Kitchener Rangers
5’8, 165 lbs, April 1, 1988

How high Azevedo goes in the draft may be determined at how well smallish players do in the NHL this season under the new rules. It is hard not to compare Azevedo to Derek Roy (BUF) who had a great four-year career with the Kitchener Rangers before moving onto the professional ranks. The players are similar in stature, speed and skill, but Roy was feistier than Azevedo.

As a rookie on a very good Ranger team that finished third overall in the OHL, Azevedo was used in a lot of situations and his role increased in the playoffs, a time when many rookies see nothing but the bench. In the conference finals against London, he was used to kill penalties while two men down, he was on the ice late in the game when the Rangers were trying to tie it up, he was used on the power play, and he was even selected to take a penalty shot. That just goes to show how much head coach Peter Deboer thinks of him. Azevedo finished his rookie season with 39 points in 58 games.

With Mike Richards (PHI) moving to pro hockey, there will be more ice time available for Azevedo and he should really blossom because of it. He has a great skating stride and can carry the puck at full tilt and if he plays to the full of his potential, he will give the Rangers the ability to have a No. 1 line with Evan McGrath (DET) and a 1A line centered by himself.

Azevedo had a strong Under 17 tournament for Team Ontario and was invited to try out for Team Canada for the Under 18 tournament, but did not make the team.

Steve Ferry, D – London Knights
5’11, 175 pounds, September 5, 1988

Ferry is another smallish type defenseman who may have his draft status affected by how the new rules in the NHL play out. There are two schools of thought, one that defensemen need to be more mobile and good puck movers under the new rules and that size won’t matter as much, another train of thought is that the crackdown on obstruction and the restrictions on goalies playing the puck will lead to defensemen getting hammered on the forecheck more than ever and size will be just as important.

Ferry is coming off a rookie year in which he was broken in slowly, usually being the fifth man on a team that some nights used exclusively four defensemen. When he did get the chance to play he did show some abilities to skate and move the puck. How well he copes with the physical aspect of the game this year when he gets to play a regular shift on a London defense corps that is rebuilding will be another huge factor on his draft status.

There have been people comparing him to Danny Syvret (EDM) who just finished a strong three-year career with the Knights, but that may be a bit optimistic. Syvret was named the CHL defenseman of the year last season and was team captain and that is some pretty big skates for Ferry to fill on the ice and off of it. Ferry will be in a unique position as a 17-year-old, as he may be asked to play a lot of hockey, depending on what London does with its overage positions or what it does trade wise.

Ferry was invited to the 40-man training camp for Team Canada but did not make the Under 18 squad.

Michael Caruso, D – Guelph Storm
6’2, 185 pounds, July 5, 1988

Caruso is a very steady defender who is not flashy, but gets the job done. He had a very solid year with the Storm last year as a rookie on a rebuilding team he saw regular ice. In the first round loss against the powerful London Knights he was not on for any even strength goals against in the four games. Caruso is a big defender who is mobile enough and is not afraid to lay the body. After taking a regular shift at even strength during the later stages of his rookie season, he should start seeing some more time on the penalty kill units this season.

Caruso played for Team Ontario at the Under 17 tournament.

Ben Shutron, D – Kingston Frontenacs
6’0, 180 pounds. June 14, 1988

Shutron is a slick defenseman with huge offensive upside. On a very weak Frontenacs team he stepped in and played a regular shift and had some tough nights as he had the worst plus/minus on the team, but also showed plenty of potential, especially on the power play.

He has great wheels and puck handling abilities; he has to learn to make better decisions and work on his strength in order to push for first round status in the upcoming draft.

Shutron played for Team Ontario at the Under 17 tournament and suited up for Team Canada in August and took home a gold medal at the Under 18 tournament.

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