By the OilKnight 12/05/19
Antonio Stranges fell to the 2nd round of the 2018 OHL draft mainly because he was committed to Michigan, but London took a chance on him anyways and it worked out. In terms of talent, he was highly considered as one of the absolute best in his draft class. As a 16 yr old OHL rookie, he had a very promising 13 goals & 34 points and looks to build off that success this season – his draft year.
23 GP – 12 Goals, 9 assists, 21 points
Stranges got off to a hot start this season registering 9 points in the first 6 games, but has cooled somewhat offensively since then as he continues to work on other facets of his game. He started on the top line & the top powerplay unit with Connor McMichael, but was bumped down the lineup once Liam Foudy returned from injury. Since then, he has struggled to get going offensively and has been a bit of a liability defensively, which has subsequently landed him on the 4th line recently. However, in his last 4 games he has scored in all of them (5 goals, 6 points), played a much better 200 foot game, and has been one of the best players on the ice in each of those games. He’s also shooting the puck much more (19 SOG in 4 games) after going the previous 8 games with no goals and only 13 shots.
Stranges is as skilled as almost anyone in this class and his ceiling is enormous. But, under Dale Hunter prospects typically are groomed to be better 200 foot players first before they get all the prime offensive looks. This is evident when you see 1 PPG in his stat line. Like many NHL prospects in London before him, Stranges is learning that the hard way. Buried behind a few high end NHL prospects and a bunch of seasoned veterans, patience is still required for the talented Stranges. But, by season’s end don’t be surprised if he’s much higher up the list as his confidence grows and he rounds out his game.
Stranges 10-2 skating style is the first thing anyone ever talks about with him and for good reason. His ability to blow by defenders while somehow skating almost laterally is a real treat to watch. Once he winds up and opens up those hips – look out. On shootouts, he is particularly dangerous when he attacks with that style as it makes him so unpredictable. Goalies don’t know if he is going to go forehand or backhand as both are equally viable options. That unpredictability keeps defenders off balance too, as they can’t tell if he’s going to pass or shoot since he changes skating angles so much.
Speaking of his backhand, Stranges probably has the best in the draft. He can get such power on his release and has scored from the slot before – with his backhand. He’s scored plenty of times backhand top shelf too in tight which speaks to his quick hands & puck skills. He also is able to make precision passes with both sides of the stick that it really makes him a dual threat. Elite backhand is a rare skill nowadays.
One of the most underrated parts of Stranges game is his vision and passing ability. He is capable of putting amazing touch on passes while also threading the needle between several defenders. He sees lane develop extremely well & anticipates plays before they happen to find the open area in the ice. He has great offensive instincts & puck control which allow him to do pretty much whatever he wants with the puck. But that vision and passing ability really are special.
As much as people are enamoured with Stranges‘ 10-2 skating style, sometimes I feel it works against him. For example, since he is a left handed shot and opens up his hips when he skates like that, it does make him more vulnerable to turnovers on the left side of ice with the puck exposed. Acceleration is an issue with that style in short spaces, so he does have a tendency to turn over the puck at times if attempts the 10-2 & doesn’t have time to wind it up first. Whereas, if he lowered his shoulder instead to shield opponents he would have better puck protection. Not a huge issue but does happen from time to time.
You also naturally worry about defenders lighting him up with a big hit with him being exposed like that. He is very agile and elusive but in the NHL not sure exactly how well that will translate if he continues to do it consistently.
Shot accuracy is another area that could use some work and may be a result of the unbalanced skating. It is difficult to follow thru on your shot when your off-balanced. Stranges does have a pretty good shot and release but accuracy has been an issue at times when his momentum is taking him away from the net. More of a mechanics thing than anything that needs some refining.
Lastly, to be considered a true Top 15 prospect, Stranges need to continue to work on his 200 foot game. Not to say the commitment isn’t there because he does show good effort in coming back and competes hard in board battles quite often, but more consistency and dedication would serve him well and round out his game. Fortunately, that is what Coach Hunter in London is known for. Once Stranges becomes more of a puck hound at both ends of the ice, and commits to taking care of his own zone – scouts will really start singing his praises. Here’s an example early in the year where more commitment was required (#40):
One thing to consider when evaluating prospects coming out of London is usage. London is typically one of the deepest organizations when it comes to NHL talent. Last season for example, Connor McMichael started on a tear the first half of the year. However, Alex Formenton was returned from his NHL club and the team traded for OHL veteran Kevin Hancock and McMichael then took a bit of a backseat to those players. His PP time was limited and he wasn’t used in nearly as many prime offensive situations as a player like Arthur Kaliyev for example. Which made his numbers even that more impressive. Yet he still went late 1st round – 25th overall.
In 2018, Liam Foudy didn’t really get hot till the 2nd half of the season when a lot of vets were traded. Before that, his offensive usage was limited. He ended up going 18th overall. Robert Thomas in 2017 was the 3rd line checking center till trades were made and he got a bump to the top line after the new year. He ended up being drafted 20th overall.
Stranges should be considered a late 1st round pick right now, but has the potential to explode offensively at any given point in the season much like Foudy, Thomas & McMichael all did at various points in their draft years. There’s no doubting his natural ability but progression will be the key. With several key veterans likely headed to the World Juniors later this month, Stranges should get his opportunity to shine in a more offensive role.
DRAFT YEAR COMPARISON
In terms of NHL translatable skills, his skating, passing and backhand are all elite which makes him a very enticing prospect. In fact, Stranges is probably the most naturally gifted player to come out of London since Mitch Marner. He is a dynamic player with just about as much upside as any other prospect in this draft.
So the Marner comparison is an obvious one based on the natural skill-sets. However, it is hard to ignore the Jeremy Bracco comparisons as they both have similar strengths too (10-2 skating, excellent vision, terrific backhand) though at this point Stranges is a bit more dynamic I would say. Bracco is a very talented prospect who has excelled at the AHL level but is still looking to crack the big club full-time. Because of the system he is coming out of in London, I anticipate Stranges being a bit more refined in terms of playing a pro style game but like Bracco it might take him some time to get to the NHL as he continues to get stronger.
Bottom line, there are areas of his game Stranges needs to work on to take his game to the next level no doubt. Given the amount of ice-time he is receiving right now it will take some time. But like many Knights before him – don’t sleep on the player based on the offensive stat sheet alone…..it’s all about usage and progression.
Prediction: Mid-late 1st round pick
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