Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to head out to Plymouth and watch the Plymouth Whalers take on the Kingston Frontenacs in some OHL action. It always seems like a wild night when I make it out to an OHL game, and this was no exception. Kingston erased a 5-2 second period deficit and ended up winning the game by a score of 7-6.
Part of the fun of seeing an OHL game is being able to compare the level of play to that of the NCAA, something that I think fans on both sides of the border aren't able to do enough. Here's a couple things that stood out to me about the level of play. I will throw in the caveat that while the OHL is a little more high-scoring than the NCAA, 13 goals in a game is high even for that league, so my perceptions may be slightly shaded by that.
-There is such a huge difference in terms of time and space in the offensive zone for forwards to work with. There were a lot of quality scoring chances 5-on-5 that just don't see very often in NCAA hockey. That really gives the league's skill players a chance to shine.
-I feel like the OHL does a better job of promoting development among younger players than some of the US junior leagues do. Kingston's top line featured undrafted, unheralded '92 Cody Alcock, '94 Billy Jenkins, and '93 Darcy Greenaway. It seems like Kingston wouldn't have a problem finding nine similar, older forwards, and they'd be a better team for it, but instead, there were a lot of '95s and '96s on both sides getting valuable development time
-Perhaps as a result of the above, the depth on both rosters was pretty bad. The top two forward lines each way would have no trouble playing college hockey anywhere. I counted maybe two defensemen in the game that could play top 4 minutes on a WCHA team. The fifth and sixth defenseman on each side were absolutely terrible, and they helped create a lot of scoring opportunities for the other side's top lines.
- Goal tending was far from stellar in this game. This game featured two fairly old goalies by OHL standards, but when you compare them to the average starting hockey of a college hockey goalie, they're much, much younger, and that makes a huge difference in goalie development.
-Matt Mistele scored a hat trick and not a single person threw a hat on the ice. The hell?
And here's a few thoughts I jotted down on some individual prospects:
Tom Wilson(WAS pick)- Everyone who has watched him in the OHL the past two years already knows this, but he's just improved leaps and bounds from when he first came into the league. He's obviously one of the toughest players in the league, but what impressed me most was that he showed off some skating too, beating an(albeit terrible) defender wide a couple times to set up scoring opportunities, and made a sick pass for an assist in the third period. He was well worth the first round pick by Washington. I can't see him not making Canada's World Junior team either.
Alex Aleardi(free agent)-He had five points, and there were at least four other times when I thought he had a sixth point. He also punched somebody for no reason with 40 seconds left and his team down a goal, effectively ending the game. With that combination of events, I may or may not have made a comment about him being back on the juice. I was always disappointed this kid didn't take the college route, and he would have been one heck of a college player. He'll probably get a tryout with an NHL team somewhere, but I can't see him having a long NHL career.
Rickard Rakell(ANA pick)- Really slick hands, though sometimes he gets a little too cute with the puck. Despite being pretty big, he doesn't do as well in traffic or in the corners. Still, I'm not looking forward to seeing this guy line up against the US at the World Juniors in a month.
Connor Carrick(WAS pick)- He's a solid all-around player, but there's not a lot of pro upside there. He would have contributed at Michigan this year, but I'm not sure he would have had enough of an impact to really change their fortunes this year.
Ryan Kujawinski-He started the year in first round territory but has been slipping on draft boards as of late, and it's pretty simple to figure out why. His team scored seven goals and he didn't factor into the scoring in any of them. I'm not sure he really generated any sort of quality scoring chances. There's still a lot of to like though. He's a big forward that can hit people, and he was pretty good in the face-off circle. I just don't see much offensive upside, which probably pushes him down into the second or third round of the draft, rather than the first.
Ryan Hartman- Classic definition of a tweener. He's not big enough to be an NHL power forward, and he doesn't have the quickness you'd typically see in someone that makes the NHL at his size. He's a well-respected kid and a hard worker so maybe he beats the odds, but I wouldn't gamble a high draft pick on him at this point.
Ryan Hutchinson-Not the most skilled, but he's a very tough kid. Maybe worth considering in the later rounds?
Dan Vanderwiel- High energy guy, maybe a late round pick.
Connor Sills- Definitely a project. He's a 6'4" rookie, and he hasn't scored much yet with Plymouth, but he looks like a kid with some decent upside. It's worth keeping an eye on how he does in the second half of the year when he gets a little more comfortable.
This is where the real talent was. Maybe it's because there's a wider net cast a year and a half out, but there were a lot of potential '14 draft picks in this game.
Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson- They weren't particularly flashy, but they played on a line together and that line controlled play in the offensive zone the majority of the night. Watson will be on Team Ontario at the U17 Challenge.
Matt Mistele- A late '95. He played on the Whalers top line with Wilson and Hartman, and finished the night with three goals. It looks like he's just starting to take off as an offensive threat.
Roland McKeown- I've seen a lot of people ranking him in the top 5 for the '14 draft, but I just didn't see it here. He's playing on his team's top pairing, which I guess is something. He didn't have a very good game though. Maybe it's just a bump in the road that comes with being a young player. He kind of reminds me of Mark Katic, who picked up a ton of hype as a 16-year-old playing big minutes for a bad Sarnia team, but never really developed from there. McKeown is bigger, although I wouldn't have guessed he was as big as he's listed.
Dylan DiPerna- A big, fairly raw kid. He had a pretty quiet game, although he played on the third pairing behind a second pairing that was repeatedly abused. He'll be on the Ontario U17 team too. Should be a kid that really takes off with a year of experience under his belt.
Zach Bratina- He's a young kid that still looks like he's figuring things out, but I thought he did a lot of good stuff out there, and should develop into a really nice player. Great find by Plymouth.
Alex Peters- Huge kid. Not a strong game here, but if he can add some skill to that size, he'll be a serious prospect.