Top 10 OHL Prospects of 2020
By the OilKnight 01/08/20
Whenever I read draft rankings I always like to know context first. That is, where the evaluator is coming from so I can incorporate that into my own analysis. These rankings are not based on who is the best Junior player, but who appears to have the best chance of success in the NHL.
While reviewing the prospect’s profiles, you’ll notice at times I will be highly critical of a certain player’s game. Just so you know, it is meant to be constructive criticism and it is certainly not personal. I’m simply identifying potential red flags I see in a Prospect that I feel may hinder them at the next level. That doesn’t mean I dislike the kid as a person or don’t think he can improve in those areas. I simply try and call it as I see it from an NHL perspective (I am not affiliated with any NHL team). Where a prospect starts and where he ultimately finishes the year can be two totally different things too. I’m a bit of a draft historian and look for things that others may overlook or dismiss. Highlighting some negatives gives me a measuring stick in terms of progression for later in the year. Progression is an important tool in the evaluation process.
It’s important to note, all of this is subjective and everyone has a different way to scout these players. In terms of rankings, the #1 focus for me is to look for NHL translatable skills and potential red flags. The NHL translatable skills I value the most are: Speed, smarts, puck skills and compete level. If a player plays a complete 200 foot game it is considered a bonus at this age. The red flags I look for: Lack of compete, poor decision making, high risk plays/turnovers, lack of footspeed. What a player does without the puck is almost as important as what they do with it. That’s where things like 200 foot game and hockey sense come into play. Important tools to consider and much easier to track in person than on TV.
I don’t care what anyone says, there is absolutely a difference between playing a Junior style game and a pro style game. I typically don’t care HOW MANY points a player gets I care more about HOW they get them. Garbage goals on bad goalies look good on the stat sheet but do nothing to sway me that it will translate to the next level, as you don’t get to take those goals with you to the pros. Yes, there is such a thing as “Junior goals”, and playing good defence is an integral part of a defenceman’s evaluation – it is not overrated. Puck moving ability is also a must for any defencemen ranked in the top few rounds for me.
I don’t typically use advanced analytics in my evaluations at this age other than the basic scoring stats, though I do have certain offensive thresholds players need to hit. Once they achieve these they are grouped together in Tiers and evaluated on their NHL translatable skills & red flags from there. I compare each prospect among his peers in his specific league first and pull data from previous years (same league) to determine their league ranking. Once all the leagues are done, then I cross reference and rank accordingly to determine a final NHL draft list. In this case, it is an OHL list only and while I’m pretty much set in terms of rankings at the top, after the big 3 it is still very much a state of flux. So here we go:
1. Jamie Drysdale
Probably my favourite prospect to come out of the OHL since Robert Thomas. Drysdale is an elite skater and “thinker” of the game. Referred to by some as a “genius”, he possesses great offensive instincts but also is a fearless and determined competitor in the defensive zone. (a more detailed breakdown of his game can be found here.)
Drysdale can be a transition nightmare for opponents & is a natural at breakouts with his terrific vision and puck moving ability. A real student of his craft, Drysdale is a zone exit machine and closes gaps quickly in the neutral zone. He likes to direct traffic and quickly join the rush though is always cognizant defensively first. He appears to take great pride in being a reliable 2-way defenceman.
In terms of skating, Drysdale is a phenomenal skater with explosive acceleration. He is more than capable of keeping pace with guys like Liam Foudy in the OHL and shutting them down altogether. I would say he’s at least on par with recent 1st rounders Cale Makar & Quinn Hughes in the NHL. And while they may be considered better puck rushing offensive defencemen, I would say don’t underestimate Drysdale‘s ability to do so as well. He is the better defender already IMO, and takes great pride in his defensive game. But, can and likely will be coached in the future to take more chances offensively because he definitely has that ability in him.
Though not overly physical, he displays great anticipation and an uncanny ability to beat attackers with superb positioning. He hasn’t flourished on the Powerplay but exhibits all the traits (ability to walk the line, get pucks on net, move puck quickly) that suggests he can be at the next level.
Drysdale is easily the best defenceman in this class and the most complete defender to come out since Drew Doughty. A future, #1 right shot dman very reminiscent of Scott Niedermayer but much more refined defensively at his age. He hasn’t been super productive offensively which may turn some people off, but I believe he has all the tools to explode statistically if and when he decides to open it up offensively. He’s the total package.
2. Quinton Byfield
Byfield has the size/skill/speed combination that makes scouts drool. He has quick hands and a heavy shot and release. He also have a very high hockey IQ and is reliable at both ends of the ice. He can beat you wide with his speed while shielding the puck with his big frame, or he can stickhandle right past you if you’re not careful. His vision & passing ability are also top notch. He possesses great offensive instincts & is very sound defensively. The agility and acceleration he displays at his size are also very rare. Byfield is always active on every shift as he has a great motor. He’s always moving his feet and using his long reach to pick off passes. He’s good at faceoffs and is an effective penalty killer.
The only real concern I have with Byfield is his real lack of physicality despite the large frame, and at times he tends to shy away from contact altogether. He loses more battles along the boards than he should. I would like to see a more willingness to fight through checks and not give up on plays as much. He is a bit of a gentle giant which is something teams could take advantage of at the next level.
That’s the main reason he is #2 on this list is because he doesn’t quite show enough grit and determination you would like to see from a Top pick. Plus, in the last 4 tournaments he and Jamie Drysdale have played together (U17’s, Hlinka-Gretzky, CIBC Canada-Russia series & World Juniors), I have felt Drysdale had the better overall performances in all four. Statistically, they are very close:
|Jamie Drysdale||Quinton Byfield|
|Hlinka-Gretzky||0 goals, 5 assists, +6||3 goals, 2 assists, +1|
|U17’s||0 goals, 4 assists||2 goals, 1 assist|
|CIBC Can/Rus||0 goals, 1 assist, +2||0 goals, 2 assists, +1|
|WJC 2020||1 goal, 2 assists, +3||0 goals, 1 assist, -3|
|TOTAL||1 GOAL, 12 ASSISTS, +11||5 GOALS, 6 ASSISTS, -1|
In fact, even if you go back to the 2017-18 OHL cup in Minor Midget, Byfield was outscored by his teammates Cameron Butler & Evan Vierling, despite destroying the ETAMMHL with 92 points in 34 games as team captain that year. In the 2nd round in last year’s OHL playoffs, Byfield registered 1 assist and was a -7 in 4 games as his Sudbury Wolves were swept by the Ottawa 67’s. Now he was only 16 yrs old then, but there’s a pattern developing here of Byfield not playing up to his full potential in big games and tournaments.
Bottom line, despite the tantalizing skill-set & tremendously high ceiling, I do feel like Byfield is a tad overrated when projecting to the NHL level. People are enamoured by his skill at his size but he plays like a smaller player, so I don’t see that as a big advantage right now. Of course, he could fill out as he adds more strength and physically dominate eventually but that’s not his game. I don’t view him as a generational talent, but he will surely be a very good NHL player for many years. I compare him to Rick Nash in terms of his potential impact in the NHL. He won’t score as many goals as Nash did, but will certainly have more assists.
3. Marco Rossi
Marco Rossi might be the most “pro-ready” prospect in this draft. Despite his smaller frame, he is a bull on his skates and a tough player to knock off the puck. His work ethic is tremendous. He is always moving his feet and adjusting positionally it makes him very difficult to contain. He’s a very strong skater with excellent agility & edge-work but it’s that shiftiness that makes him hard to stop.
Rossi is a multi-faceted, dynamic player who can beat you with his shot, or his terrific playmaking ability. He has very good hands and a lightning quick release. I love how he reads the play and doesn’t force it if it isn’t there which is a sign of a very intelligent player. He rather circle back or attempt a different angle of attack rather than cause a turnover. He does not turn the puck over very often at all. He’s extremely responsible defensively and is a beast in transition which is a real treat to watch. Quite often you can even find him below the circles in the defensive zone battling for pucks and leading the breakout.
Rossi has all the traits of an elite playmaking center at the next level. He’s very quick, highly intelligent and skilled, and his motor never stops. He is committed to being a complete player and makes players around him better. He’s the type of player you notice on every single shift. Extremely high compete level.
Now, I could understand if some people rank him above Byfield quite honestly because he is such a complete player, though because he is almost a full year older he still ranks #3 for me. A future #1 center in the NHL, Rossi reminds of Sebastian Aho though even stronger on his skates.
4. Cole Perfetti
Cole Perfetti is an intriguing prospect in that statistically he is right up there with guys like Marco Rossi and Quinton Byfield. Plus, he appears to have very good hockey sense, terrific passing ability, and an excellent shot and release. On the PP, he’s always a shooting threat from the right circle with that deadly wrister. He also has very quick hands in tight and excels on breakaways and shootouts. He reads the ice very well, and is capable of threading the needle in tight passing lanes. Overall, he is a creative playmaker with excellent offensive instincts capable of posting some big numbers.
However, there are concerns I have about his game translating to the next level that I can’t ignore. Many people “assume” he’ll eventually improve in those areas but you know what they say about assumptions. For one, his skating leaves a lot to be desired. He does have good agility and edgework but his top speed is average and limits his effectiveness when it comes to things like zone entries, and driving the play thru the neutral zone. For this reason, he is definitely a winger at the next level for me.
His work ethic is also a major concern as too often he is viewed as floating, and not playing a determined enough game. Quite often he can go shifts, and sometimes even games where he is practically invisible until his team gets a powerplay then he shows up on the scoresheet. He can get away with that in Junior, but at the pro level will need to show much more consistency and competitiveness if he is going to stick in the lineup.
The other thing I worry about is his lack of overall strength and physicality. He appears to fall to the ice a lot and can be muscled off the puck especially along the boards where he tends to shy away from contact. That’s a concern and certainly a contrast to a guy like Rossi who is just a bull on his skates and tough to get the puck from.
Ranked by many ahead of Marco Rossi earlier in the year, the gap between the two prospects is huge now in my opinion. Some draft enthusiasts are conveniently overlooking obvious flaws which could hinder him at the next level which is a mistake. Now, it’s possible I will end up regret underestimating him but right now, I have too many concerns about Cole Perfetti‘s game to rank him any higher. I see a lot of Jordan Eberle in Perfetti which means he could be a very good player in the NHL but until his work ethic, skating & overall commitment to playing a 200 foot game improve, I can’t rank any higher than this. I consider Rossi a Top 5 pick, while Perfetti more in the 15-25 range. I really do like the player, I just don’t love him.
5. Jacob Perreault
Perreault is the son of former NHL‘er Yanic Perreault. His real strengths are his booming shot which is NHL caliber, his hockey IQ, and his ability to find open areas on the ice. He can pretty much snipe it from anywhere though he loves that one-timer from the left circle. He also likes to go hard to the net. That makes him a very dangerous scorer in the offensive zone. He has been extremely productive since he joined the league registering 30 goals last season as a 16 yr old, and is on pace for over 40 goals this year. That kind of production is hard to ignore. He’s also a very good skater with good top end speed who is aggressive on the forecheck.
Like Perfetti, I’m not a huge fan of Perreault‘s game away from the puck either, as he tends to float at times and is slow coming back in the defensive zone. He does also show some inconsistencies from shift to shift in terms of effort which is a bit of a concern. He can be physical at times but definitely needs to add more strength as he tends to get knocked down a lot. He’s not the greatest passer and does turn over the puck more than you would like at times as well.
In many ways, I see Perreault in the same light as I see Perfetti. In fact, I think they are very close in terms of strengths & weaknesses, and how they project as future NHL‘ers. After 100 OHL games, Perfetti has 59 goals. Having played only 1 less career OHL game, Perreault has 54 goals. They both need to get stronger, work on their defensive games, and show more consistency from shift to shift. Overall, they’re very similar though I give Perfetti the clear edge in terms of playmaking ability, which is why he is ranked 1 slot ahead of Perreault accordingly.
6. Antonio Stranges
Stranges is one of the biggest wildcards in this draft. Last season, you could see he oozed talent and would be a popular prospect in his draft year. This season however, it has been an up and down year so far as he has really struggled with consistency.
When he’s on, Stranges can be absolutely dynamic. His 10-2 skating is electrifying & it gives him that ability to blow by defenders if they’re not ready for it and set him up for a good scoring chance. He also has terrific vision & an uncanny knack for putting the perfect touch on passes right thru defenders with his lightning quick hands. His passing ability is certainly underrated. The backhand is also a weapon and easily the best in this draft. I’ve seen him score goals from 15 feet out with his backhand, as he is capable of generating a lot of power from it. He also loves to go backhand in the shootouts too which keeps goalies honest as he so strong on both ends of his stick. Stranges has real quick hands in tight & an excellent one-timer. Really, there is a lot to like in his game that could translate well to the NHL but again it all comes down to consistency.
He started the season hot with 5 goals & 7 points in the first 4 games. Then there was a 6 game stretch in December where he absolutely took over, registering 7 goals & 9 pts in those 6 games. But in between that, Stranges has struggled to maintain the consistency you would like to see from a top prospect and it has undoubtedly affected his confidence. Part of it I think, is his unique skating style that throws off his teammates as they seem to struggle to develop that on-ice chemistry. I also feel like he’s still adjusting to playing the wing a bit as opposed to the center of the ice where he looks most comfortable. His 200 foot game has been a work in progress & he needs to keep moving his feet in the defensive zone but he’s made noticeable improvements since the beginning of the year in those areas.
Because I have seen him at his absolute best for extended periods of time, I am probably more bullish on Stranges than most draft analysts who only catch him occasionally. One of the reasons Connor McMichael dropped in the 1st round last year despite registering 36 goals & 72 points, was inconsistencies in his game as he appeared to lose confidence down the stretch & in the playoffs. London is a unique situation where draft eligible forwards are typically forced to play second fiddle to 1st round picks and that can happen. But, if you are fortunate enough to catch them when they are at their absolute best, it gives you a better idea what they are capable of. And with experience, the confidence will come as we see with McMichael who is killing it this year.
Regardless, Stranges is a super talented player with obvious NHL translatable skills. He needs to keep pushing the pace, working hard, and committing to being a good 200 foot player (which is something he has improved on a lot this season already). It’s just going to take a bit more time for him to put it altogether – much like many former Knights before him. He could still explode at any time and I would expect a noticeable uptick in his offensive production in the 2nd half.
7. Tyson Foerster
In the summer, I would have anticipated Will Cuylle being slotted here but for whatever reason, he just can’t seem to put it together this season and has disappointed so far despite his natural skill-set. Foerster on the other hand, caught me by complete surprise.
Tyson Foerster is not the sexiest player at first glance, but he is the type of player who grows on you the more you watch him because he does so many things well. He’s consistent, reliable, hard-working, and very smart. His bread and butter though is his shot and release which is NHL caliber. His one-timer from left circle on the PP is a real weapon. He’s also an underrated passer who sees passing lanes develop & is capable of hitting teammates right on the tape. I love how he reads the ice and is able to weave in and out of lanes to find an opening.
Foerster is the type of player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He plays a very good 200 ft game and displays determination on every shift. He’s always around the net looking for a rebound, and quite often he is the first man back on the backcheck. He’s also aggressive on the forecheck and picks off a lot of pucks with his long reach. Thru 35 games he leads Barrie in points & hasn’t gone more than 2 games without a point all season. He’s a model of consistency and hard work, who plays a very smart & quietly effective game, but also possesses that big shot that he can hang his hat on.
Foerster skates well for a big man though his stride is a bit choppy. His top speed appears to be good though he will need to continue to work on his first few steps. Once he gains a bit more strength & explosiveness he could become a real dominant force. He’s still underrated because of that but gets an opportunity to shine at the upcoming CHL prospect’s game. Reminds me so much of James Neal in the NHL.
8. Ryan O’Rourke
O’Rourke is an easy prospect to fall in love with because he’s a leader and he’s a battler. He relishes being that tough, in your face defender who will block shots and do whatever it takes to win. He’s not afraid to scrap or jump in to defend a teammate which makes him a fan favourite.
Defence is really O’Rourke‘s forte, as he likes to take care of his own end first and foremost. He battles hard to clear out the front of the net, and makes opponents pay if they hang out there too long. He finishes his checks and uses his strength to separate attackers from the puck along the boards. He usually makes good reads in the defensive zone, and has an active stick to break up passes. Sometimes he can get running around in his own end and can get caught flat-footed here and there, but for the most part he is very strong defensively.
That doesn’t mean O’Rourke doesn’t have offensive ability either because he does. He owns a cannon of a shot from the point & while he isn’t on the same level as Drysdale in terms of passing ability, he still is a pretty good passer himself. At the WHC-U17 he was the leading scorer for Team Canada Black, ahead of guys like Drysdale and Byfield. In the OHL this season, he leads all draft eligible defencemen in PPG‘s with 4 goals and is tied for 6th overall. For the Soo, he’s also a +22, which is 2nd in the OHL among all defencemen.
In terms of skating & puck moving ability, I would say O’Rourke is solid in both areas. He’s not a burner but has noticeably improved his skating since last year significantly. He also makes a good first pass on the breakout and is capable of jumping up and joining the rush on the attack. Typically though, he’s the last to leave the zone so we don’t get to see his transition game too often.
Overall, O’Rourke is a reliable, well-rounded, tough to play against throwback defender who skates well, is a leader & is a very capable puck mover. He is clearly the 2nd best dman in this league IMO and will be a hot commodity come draft day.
9. Ty Tullio
Tullio should play for Hamilton because he is a bulldog. He’s listed at anywhere between 5’9″ and 5’11”, 161-166 lbs but he plays much bigger than that. He’s a warrior on the ice who never stops.
Tullio has a big shot, dynamite release & a relentless motor. He’s fearless going to the net, fights for his space and has a knack for getting open. He’s basically your prototypical power forward minus the size, but he has all the other traits NHL teams look for. He has a powerful stride and shows good agility skating east-west. His one-timer might be the best in his class as he generates so much power even from one knee. He has excellent offensive instincts. He knows how and where to get open and will take it hard to the net and battle for rebounds if need be. He’s an energetic kid who can skate, shoot and gives you a 100% on every shift. That’s why he’s on this list.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is never count out a player with his kind of determination, especially when he has the speed & skill to go with it. He might not be as natural a scorer as a guy like Jack Quinn, but he’s got as many points as him and is also 7 months younger than Quinn which is why I put him 1 spot ahead. Some will question Tullio‘s size at the next level, but I’m not betting against this kid. As long as his rambunctious style doesn’t cause injuries, he’s a surefire NHL‘er in my books.
10. Jack Quinn
Quinn is a late 2001 birthdate and didn’t have the most productive year last season which definitely plays a factor for me in this ranking. However, he also played a limited role on a stacked team so I also take that into consideration. If he were even 6 months younger doing what he is doing this year, he’d be a surefire Top 5 OHL‘er for me. Having said that, he could just be a late bloomer as it does appear he has improved in several areas dramatically since last season. Regardless, from a pure scouting standpoint, there is a lot to like in his game.
Skating was a bit of an issue with Quinn when he came into the OHL, but it appears he has made great strides (pardon the pun) in the area. He looks much quicker and explosive now. He’s very elusive with the puck too in the offensive zone. He also does a good job on the backcheck hustling back hard, which was another knock on him coming into this season.
Offensively, Quinn is putting the puck in the net which is what he projects at the next level – a scorer. He possesses soft hands and a dynamite shot & release on the wrister. His 7 PPG‘s lead the team and he has a team leading 125 shots on net in 35 games which puts him 4th overall among 1st year draft eligibles. He’s good in puck pursuit & creates a lot of turnovers with his aggressive forecheck. Size and strength could be a bit of an issue but he shows enough jam to limit those concerns.
Again, there is a lot to like about Quinn‘s game. Because he just missed last year’s cut-off & and had noticeable holes in his game coming into the year, I do worry about his age in this ranking. But, he has made noticeable improvements since then so he could just be that late bloomer that comes around once in awhile. Either way, I think he deserves to be in the OHL Top 10 & has potential to climb even more if he can keep up this offensive production.
Jaromir Pytlik – Does so many things, plays a pro-style game. Reliable in all 3 ones. Excellent stickhandler, Good not great skater. Plays power game. Just not sure about the offensive upside. Late 2001 birthdate not productive enough for me in OHL. Disappointing WJC too. Could carve out a bottom 6 role in NHL.
Will Cuylle – Big shot, good skater, sneaky hands. But, inconsistency & work ethic an issue. Reminds me of Blake Murray last year. Should be more productive than he is.
Jean-Luc Foudy – Elite speed, good vision, nice playmaking. But, a perimeter player who just doesn’t go hard enough to dirty areas. Lack of strength an issue. Reminds me of Ryan McLeod.
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