Monahan tops the crop of 2013 OHL prospects at season’s midpoint

By Jason Menard

Nikita Zadorov - London Knights

Photo: London Knights defenseman Nikita Zadorov is considered a top 10 propsect by ISS Hockey, but CSS ranks Darnell Nurse ahead of the big Russian (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

If the Canadian Hockey League considers itself the best road to the NHL, then the Ontario Hockey League can lay claim to being the CHL’s most popular route. Having provided five of the last six first-overall draft picks, it’s likely that players coming out of the OHL will have their names called early and often at the 2013 NHL Draft that will take place in Newark, NJ in late June.

What follows is a look at some of the top stories, featuring the OHL’s top prospects for this year's NHL Draft.

Eyes on the Capital — Since the beginning of the year, the consensus top prospect in the OHL is the Ottawa 67’s Sean Monahan. The center with a late-94 birthday is ranked fifth overall by ISS Hockey — and both services have him atop the list of OHL prospects.

His offensive numbers continue to grow and impress: he’s followed up seasons of 47 and 78 points with a half-season total of 49 in 35 games this year. However — and despite declining plus/minus numbers — what most impresses the hockey world about Monahan is his commitment to a two-way style of play and his on- and off-ice leadership abilities.

Monahan said that he grew up idolizing Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, and one can see elements of those stars’ games in Monahan’s. Playing on a last place team that bleeds goals, Monahan has been able to maintain a fairly neutral plus/minus, has shouldered a significant load both at even strength and on the power-play, and is the unquestioned leader of a young 67’s squad.

Enjoying the Knight Life — The Budweiser Gardens in London, ON is a nightly hotbed of NHL Draft prospects, as four of the top 15 OHL prospects (as ranked by Central Scouting) are on the Knights’ roster.

Bo Horvat and Max Domi were ranked third and eleventh, respectively among OHL players in the CSS midterm rankings. Defender Nikita Zadorov came in at 30th in the CSS rankings, but is currently ranked ninth overall by ISS Hockey, while Remi Elie is ranked 97th overall by that scouting organization and 13th among OHL prospects by CSS.

Domi, the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi, is currently sixth in OHL scoring with 60 points in 43 games. And even though he’s accumulated 43 penalty minutes this year, he certainly hasn’t followed in his father’s pugnacious footsteps. Domi’s game is about speed, elusiveness, and quick hands — although this year he’s developed increased lower-body strength, which has improved his ability to protect the puck and resist being pushed out of the play. He’s also shown a solid defensive acumen, leading the league-leading Knights with a plus-25 rating.

Horvat, conversely, is the proverbial bull in the china shop. Stocky, powerful, and good in the corners, Horvat has provided solid secondary scoring, performing at almost a point-per-game pace with 21 goals and 20 assists in 45 games. Despite his size and style of play, he’s been able to stay out of the penalty box with only 21 penalty minutes this season. Horvat has also played a key role on the team’s power-play, leading the squad with 12 power-play markers this season.

At 6’5, it’s hard to miss Zadorov on the ice, and the big Moscow-born defender has made an impression in his first season in the OHL. Although he failed to earn a spot on Russia's World Junior squad, getting cut late in the process, he’s staked his claim on a future roster position in next year’s tournament with a strong, consistent game.

With a plus-30 rating and 36 penalty minutes, Zadorov has shown an ability to play a solid, physical game without taking stupid penalties. And his three goals and 13 assists shows that he has an ability to contribute offensively. While you won’t see any end-to-end rushes from the 230-pound Zadorov, his combination of size, quickness of feet, and solid overall play has put him on the radar of several NHL squads.

Finally, Green Valley, ON native Elie has been a welcome depth addition to a stacked Knights’ roster. In 43 games as predominantly a fourth-liner, Elie has adapted to a new city (and has displayed rapidly improving English) rather well — contributing five goals and 13 assists, along with a +8, to date.

Like Father; Not Like Son — While Domi plays under the frequent watchful eye of his father Tie, who regularly makes the trip to London to watch his son, Kerby Rychel (27th overall by ISS, fifth among OHL prospects in the CSS midterm rankings) is playing even closer to home, suiting up for his father Warren’s Windsor Spitfires.

And, like the aforementioned Domi, the 6'1” Rychel’s game is nothing like his father’s. However, Rychel’s shown a bit of an edge to his game, racking up 46 penalty minutes in 43 games.

The Spitfires are a team in transition and it’s reflected in Rychel’s point totals. He’s a little off the pace of his breakout season last year where he scored 41 goals and 74 points; this year, he’s accounted for 24 goals and 18 assists as the Spitfires’ primary scorer.

Critical Care on the Blueline — Zadorov may have an inch on him (officially), but the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound’s defenseman Darnell Nurse has made the biggest splash amongst defensemen in the OHL rankings.

Ranked 10th overall by ISS in January’s rankings and listed second among OHL prospects by CSS, Nurse combines an intriguing mix of present performance and future potential.

At only 190 pounds, Nurse has plenty of room on his frame to add muscle and weight. And he’s already shown a proclivity of using what he has. He’s racked up 82 penalty minutes in 44 games and even more accolades as a big body that knows how to play the position. Nurse is physical, smart, and effective in clearing his own zone and making that first pass.

What he’s also shown this year is the beginnings of a promising offensive game with eight goals and 19 assists to his name.

And what Nurse has that some of the other prospects might not is a mentor to guide him through life as a pro athlete. In fact, if Nurse’s future is as a power-play quarterback, then who better to get advice from than his uncle — former NFL QB, Donovan McNabb, who married Nurse’s aunt Raquel.

Lean Between the Pipes — The OHL’s contribution to the goaltending prospects may be in a down period, as Spencer Martin of Mississauga and Peterborough’s Michael Guigovaz lead the prospects in a thin year between the pipes.

Although the OHL is an older goaltender’s league for the most part, the fact remains that there are no Malcolm Subban-esque prospects on the horizon.

Martin is the best of the lot, and at 6’2, 195 pounds, has that prototypical goaltender size. He’s played in 28 games for the Mississauga Steelheads, compiling a 3.02 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. He’s joined by the Peterborough Petes' Guigovaz, who has seen action in 25 games with less success — a 7-12-2 record with a 3.65 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage.

Third Time’s the Charm? — While Rychel and Domi have the famous fathers, Jordan Subban, is hoping that the family ties extend to him through his NHL-drafted brothers.

Like his brothers P.K. (second round, 2007, Montreal Canadiens) and netminder Malcolm (first round, 2012, Boston Bruins) before him, Jordan plays for the Belleville Bulls. He is the 19th-ranked OHL skater by Central Scouting, and is currently 87th overall in the ISS Hockey rankings.

The youngest Subban is among the OHL’s leading defensive scorers, accounting for eight goals and 31 points in 41 games to date. Not only do these represent a significant increase on last year’s totals, he’s also shown a better overall game. Last year, he was just one of the team-worst plus/minus total of minus-23; this year, he’s a solid +1. And he’s performing this way on an offensively challenged Bulls roster, with Subban sitting third in scoring on the Bulls' roster.

Like the other two defenders mentioned in this list, Subban’s size is an issue. Unlike the other two defenders, however, it’s not for a good reason — Subban measures in at just 5’9” and 170 pounds, which is featherweight status compared to Zadorov and Nurse. But Subban has shown a commitment to developing an all-around game, complemented by a dash of offensive flair, that could help compensate for anything that doesn’t show up on the tape measure.