I know, I know you’re going to say “isn’t a little too early to be talking about the 2019 NHL draft?” Well my answer to that would be ….. ABSOLUTELY NOT! If you’re an Oilers fan you hope and pray Edmonton isn’t anywhere near where they were this year in terms of draft position but that won’t stop me from doing what I do best – scouting the OHL.
The 1st round of the 2018 NHL draft yielded 7 prospects from the OHL while another 6 were taken in the 2nd. While next year’s crop might not have quite a dynamic a player as Svechnikov was this year there are still some high end talented players who should go in the 1st two rounds. Plus this year’s OHL group is LOADED at Center. I was fortunate to get a good look at many of these guys last year while scouting the 2018 crop and look forward to tracking their progress throughout the year leading up to the 2019 draft. As usual, when I project players I do it mainly based on what I view as NHL translatable skills not purely Junior Production. So without further adieu here’s how I have them ranked:
#1 Blake Murray (C) – Sudbury Wolves
Courtesy of sudburywolves.com
Blake Murray enters the 2018-19 season as my number one ranked OHL player without question. He is your prototypical #1 Center who has the speed, size and skill to succeed at the next level. He is already a dominant player down low and has a terrific wrist shot. He also skates very well with an explosive first few steps and at 6’2′, 180 as a 16 yr old last year he should only get bigger and stronger as this season progresses. Sudbury was the worst team in the OHL last year and traded away their best player at the time Dimitry Sokolov but Murray stepped up and finished 1st in team scoring with 21G, 23A, 44 pts in 57 games as a 16 yr old. That also put him 2nd in OHL rookie scoring behind Arthur Kaliyev who had 4 more points but played 11 more games on a stacked Hamilton team. Kaliyev won OHL rookie of the year but Murray was robbed in my opinion. Watching Barrett Hayton go 5th overall this year there is no doubt in my mind Murray has the tools to go just as high if not higher depending on how this season plays out. I think Murray is a better NHL prospect than Hayton. His strong skating on top of everything else is the difference maker for me. Right now he projects as a legit #1 Center at the next level who is capable of playing in every situation and NHL teams are desperate for that kind of player. He was invited to the Ivan Hlinka U18 Team Canada selection camp roster this summer.
#2 Arthur Kaliyev (LW) – Hamilton Bulldogs
Courtesy of Aaron Bell,OHL Images
If you haven’t heard, the rumour was earlier in the year that Arthur Kaliyev wasn’t in fact 16 yrs old. You can read about it here. I point that out as you can expect that to come up at some point during the year as scouts do their background checks. Assuming he is, Kaliyev is the most natural OHL goal-scorer eligible for the 2018-19 draft. He led all OHL rookies in goals and points with 31 Goals, 17 assists and 48 points in 68 games. He is another big, strong, powerful forward with a big shot who should be a lock to go early in the NHL draft. He loves to shoot the puck and is comfortable running the point on the powerplay. I watched almost every playoff game for Hamilton and he kind of disappeared for stretches (3 goals in 21 games) but I don’t put too much stock into that as after he all it was his rookie season. This year, I’d like to see him work on his consistency and improve his skating away from the puck as I’m not entirely convinced it is good enough yet to be considered an asset. There are some Svechnikov similarities when he goes hard to the net but Kaliyev appears to lack the elite speed to beat guys wide though he is still considered a strong skater. A bit one-dimensional right now but a pure shooter who should be highly coveted come draft day. Could explode and be a Top 5 pick.
#3 Ryan Suzuki (C) – Barrie Colts
Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images
If you recognize the name you should as Ryan is the younger brother of former Vegas 1st round pick Nick Suzuki. While likely not as good offensively as his brother, Ryan Suzuki is a very smart and savvy player who is a more of a playmaker than goal scorer. The #1 overall pick in the 2017 OHL draft, Suzuki put up 14 goals, 30 assists and 44 points for Barrie. He has excellent speed and terrific vision but is more of a passer than shooter. Nice hands though in close when he uses them. Ryan also plays a very solid 2 way game, can play on both the PP & PK and is a good faceoff guy. Plenty to like from the younger Suzuki even if the offensive upside might not quite be there. His terrific speed & skillset make him a legit prospect though he might end up being drafted a bit higher than he should be based on need and pedigree. Main concern is his size and strength as he tends to shy away from contact and loses too many puck battles.
#4 Connor McMichael (C) – London Knights
Courtesy of Matt Hiscox Photography – Adobe Portfolio
I can guarantee you right now that not many draft experts will have Connor McMichael this high in their pre-draft rankings. Come back to this next June then you’ll see. McMichael was acquired in a trade with Hamilton for Robert Thomas. A prolific scorer in Minor Midget, McMichael scored 35 goals & 62 points in 34 games as a 15 yr old before being drafted in the 1st round 11th overall by Hamilton. At 6’0″, 170 lbs he has good size and should get stronger as the year goes on. Last season he scored 8 goals & 8 assists for 16 points in 60 games. Not a big deal right? Well, if you follow London like I do you’d know that the Hunter’s ease their 16 yr olds in the lineup and limit their ice time. By the time they turn 17 usually they start to gain confidence and by the second half of their draft year they break out. A couple of recent examples to illustrate my point:
C Robert Thomas as 16 yr old – 15 points in 40 games. As 17 yr old – 66 points in 66 games. 1st round pick.
C Liam Foudy as a 16 yr old – 15 points in 58 games. As a 17 yr old – 40 points in 65 games. 1st round pick.
C Connor McMichael as 16 yr old – 16 points in 60 games. As 17 yr old – ????????
Now those other two both have elite speed. McMichael might not quite be on that level as he probably still needs to work on his skating and edge work but is certainly quick enough to compete. He also plays a solid 2 way game and has tremendous offensive upside even more so than Foudy and Thomas. He has terrific vision on the ice and makes so many smart subtle plays like Thomas used to in London. The key will be if he is able to untap his offensive potential like the others did in their draft year. If so, he may have a higher offensive upside than either of his fellow London Knight teammates and I could see him easily go in the first round. Might be regarded when it is all said and done as the smartest player with the highest hockey IQ in this draft. Tremendous feel for the game. Huge ceiling.
#5 Tag Bertuzzi (C) – Guelph Storm
Courtesy of Tony Saxon/Guelph Today
Tag Bertuzzi is the son of former NHL Todd Bertuzzi and brings a lot of the same characteristics as his father did. The #2 overall pick in the 2017 OHL draft is big, strong and highly skilled. Listed as 6’1, 190 currently by hockeydb (he’s more like 6’2″ or 6’3″) Tag is the type of player who should dominate in the OHL as early as 2018-19 his draft year as he continues to get bigger and stronger. Blessed with a wonderful set of hands and array of slick moves I expect Bertuzzi to take a giant leap forward this year for Guelph and probably end up being a 1st round pick if his offense comes around. He is a natural center who played last year on the wing mostly on the 4th line. This kid is strong, skilled and smart it’ll be interesting to monitor his skating to see if it becomes NHL caliber. Hard worker, high character, leader are all traits I keep hearing about Tag. Works hard on his defensive game and consistency. A player that could rocket up the draft boards as the season progresses.
#6 Nick Robertson (C/LW) – Peterborough Petes
Steph Crosier/Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network file photo
Of all the 2001 guys I watched last year, with the exception of Arthur Kaliyev no one stood out more for me than Nick Robertson. The small but dynamic forward is highly skilled, competes hard every shift and has excellent speed. His wrist shot is deadly and he has great vision on the ice. He can make some terrific passes and is hard to get the puck from. He has excellent awareness and hustles back hard on the defensive end. The only real issue I see when projecting him to the next level is his size. Listed at 5’9″, 161 lbs he obviously needs to bulk up a bit but he has the compete level you want to see even for such a skinny kid. Was pretty productive for a lousy team in Peterborough where he put up 15 goals, 18 assists for 33 points. Sky’s the limit for this kid in Junior it will be interesting to see if he can get stronger and faster along the way to make himself a bonafide NHL prospect.
#7 Andrew Perrott (RD) – London Knights
(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Andrew Perrott is my favourite player in this draft eligible class as of now. Why? Well, I think he does a lot of things well on the ice but he left an everlasting impression on me in the season finale last year against the Soo when he took on a 6’6′, 220 LB, 20 year old Tim Gettinger. Watch this and keep in mind he was a 16 yr old fighting a huge 20 yr old:
The kid has stones! Perrott is son of former NHLer Nathan Perrott. He is a big right shot defenceman who plays with great poise and is an excellent puck mover. Down the stretch and in the playoffs he was partnered with Evan Bouchard and didn’t look out of place. Offense isn’t really his forte and he’ll probably be buried behind newly signed Adam Boqvist and quite possibly Bouchard as well but make no mistake this kid has the goods just ask Coach Hunter:
“He’s physical, but I like his skill level,” Hunter said. “He’s going to be a power play guy with us, eventually. He moves the puck well and gets his shot through from the point. We look for big things from him. He’s a character kid.” – source
Perrott will need to continue to work on his skating as it is pretty good but not great yet but there are some similarities offensively between he and 1st rd pick Evan Bouchard as a 16 yr old. Thing is he won’t put up big offensive numbers at least this year but you have to think once Bouchard and Boqvist move on and he becomes the man that will change. Plus when you factor in his physicality and commitment to defence this kid has the potential to be a real sleeper in this year’s draft. He just sticks to guys and is a real pain in the ass to play against already. Better prospect than Alec Regula was in my opinion and if he gets Powerplay time could real break out. I’d compare him to a right-handed Jared McIsaac at this point.
#8 Danil Antropov (LW) – Oshawa Generals
Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images North America
Danil Antropov son of former NHL’er Nik Antropov tore up Minor Midget playing with Akil Thomas for the Toronto Marlboros. Last year in mainly a 3rd line role he managed to put up 15 goals, 16 assists and 31 points for Oshawa. Antropov who is listed at 6’1″ 190 lbs has the size and skill to dominate in the OHL the question is, like his dad, if his skating will be good enough to make it as an NHLer. While I’m sure it is a work in progress there’s no denying that his shot and release combined with his excellent hockey awareness make him one of the best prospects from the OHL this year. He can play either wing plus his size and poise with the puck make him a dangerous threat on the Powerplay. No question his offensive numbers will soar in his draft year but it’s all about the skating. How much that improves will ultimately decide where he goes on draft day for me.
#9 Joe Carroll (LW) – Soo Greyhounds
(BRIAN KELLY/THE SAULT STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK)
Joe Carroll didn’t do a lot on paper for the stacked Soo Greyhounds but dammit I swear I saw a good player there. If you watch him play he just looks the part. I found myself saying “I like this kid” a lot. Last season he scored 9 goals and 9 assists in 53 games. He’s already got good size at 6’2″ 194 lbs. He can really shoot the puck and can thread the needle on passes making him a dual threat. He appears to be a good enough skater and has great patience with the puck. I guess the question for him will be if he can bring it each and every night but we should find out this year with several players likely moving on from the Soo next season. Keep an eye on this guy as he could explode this year on what should still be a very good Greyhound team. He appears to have all the tools NHL scouts look for assuming his skating continues to improve.
#10 Graeme Clarke (RW) – Ottawa 67’s
Source: Getty Images
Graeme Clarke is a very talented player who might end up being a better Junior player than Pro. He has a ton of moves and terrific shot and isn’t afraid to use either. He scored the OHL goal of the year Lacrosse style last year which is near and dear to my heart as you can see here:
Why more NHL players don’t do that is beyond me. Clarke, who played with Jack Hughes in Minor Midget is a goal scorer plain and simple. He’s got a lot of flash in his game and is a wizard with the puck. There are still questions about his skating and defensive game and while he can also be turnover prone at times but there is no doubting his offensive prowess. He sort of reminds of Josh Ho-Sang when he was in Junior. Plenty to like but red flags too. He’s only 5’11, 172 right now so certainly needs to put on some mass. At this point I’m not sure if I love or hate the prospect yet but I’m pretty sure this year will provide much clarity to everyone what kind of prospect he is. He scored 14 goals, 11 assists for 25 points for Ottawa last season and was invited to participate in Team Canada U18’s Summer Camp.
All in all, it is a very deep class in terms of forwards but on defence I’m not seeing any real high impact offensive players at the next level right now. That might change over the course of a season but seeing the NHL is so desperate for game changing Centermen the OHL should provide plenty of quality options in that regard if nothing else.
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