In June, 46 players from the Ontario Hockey League were selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the highest count since 1999 saw 52. If 2012 has its way, the league wont have to wait another 12 years to turn out those high numbers.
The league boasts elite high-end talent mixed with a lot of intrigue.
As the 2011 Ontario Hockey League season slowly moves towards puck drop, there is no time better then to take a peek at 10 of the most interesting players to watch this season in the Ontario Hockey League.
This list is one that takes a look at the most intriguing and interesting players who are draft eligible out of the Ontario Hockey League this season.
Adam Pelech – Erie Otters
Adam Pelech is a defenseman who has always displayed a high ceiling. Drafted into the OHL in the second round of the 2010 OHL Draft, Pelech was viewed as a defense first prospect who would struggle offensively in the league. Based on his last year in Erie, those initial views may have been off. The third brother in the line of a successful hockey family (Brother Mike who plays in Los Angeles and brother Matt Plays in the San Jose Sharks organization), Pelech displayed last year that he does have some offensive upside.
He always will be known for his ability to play a strong defense first style, playing aggressively and controlling things in his own end, however towards the end of the year he showed a sharp improvement in both his puck handling and vision. Its obviously still a work in progress, but given Erie’s lack of offensive minded defensemen this season, Pelech should be given every opportunity to prove that he can add another element to his game.
Slater Koekkoek – Peterborough Petes
Slater Koekkoek is a personal favorite of mine. He is a defenseman who brings everything you look for, be it offensive ability, defensive intelligence and a high ceiling. He can play either a physical role or an offensive one. He makes smart plays with the puck, but is also effective when skating the puck up the ice and making plays in the neutral zone at a higher speed.
He will be in an interesting position this season in Peterborough, who will be counting on him to be their top defenseman this season. He will play a large amount of minutes and give scouts every opportunity to see him play in every situation possible. Based on his skill set and projectable upside, he should be one of the first defenseman selected out of the Ontario Hockey League.
Jarrod Maidens – Owen Sound Attack
Last season was a dream season for Jarrod Maidens. Drafted fourth overall by the Owen Sound Attack, he was given every opportunity to be a go to player for the Attack, and performed well above the expected standards. He was a key factor in the team’s championship run, and even scored the series clinching overtime goal in game seven against the Mississauga St. Michaels Majors.
He is a skilled offensive forward that combines both offensive skills and a physical edge. Currently penciled in as the second line centre behind newly acquired Daniel Catenacci, Maidens progression this season will be interesting to watch. Does he improve on his offensive numbers from last year? Does he thrive with more responsibilities? Time will tell.
Scott Laughton – Oshawa Generals
Scott Laughton is an interesting prospect. Drafted third overall in the 2010 OHL Draft out of the Toronto Marlboros program, Laughton always has had a pretty strong pedigree. He is a hard working, two way forward who brings an interesting mix of skills and intangibles to the game. Laughton is the type of player that hates to loose, and will do whatever it takes to win, be it fight, block a shot or score a timely goal.
He doesn’t have the high end offensive skills that some others on this list, and it could be argued that his ceiling is a bit lower then others, however he is a perfect team-first player that brings an underrated skill set to the table. This year will be an interesting one for the Generals as well as Laughton. He is projected as the Generals number two centre behind captain Boone Jenner, he will have all the offensive tools around him to prove whether or not he is among the top forwards for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Daniel Altshuller – Oshawa Generals
Daniel Altshuller is an interesting case. Ranked as the top goaltender coming out of the 2010 OHL Draft, Altshuller’s draft stock fell a bit due to his interest in the NCAA. Drafted by the Bulls in the third round, Altshuller chose to stay home and play for his hometown Nepean Raiders in the CCHL. Locally, Altshuller performed beyond expectations. He took the starting goaltender reigns for a strong Jr. A program and looked strong in doing so. He also witnesses some international success, winning both the World Under 17 Championship for Team Ontario, as well as the Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament this past summer.
Altshuller was courted by the Bulls, who moved former first round draft pick Tyson Teichmann to Erie to make room for him. Not interested in sharing the crease with fellow 2012 NHL Entry Draft eligible Malcolm Subban, Altshuller made it known that he would only report to a few specific teams. Oshawa was one of those teams, and late in August the Bulls traded Altshuller’s rights to the Oshawa Generals. No one can deny his talent or ability, but the only thing that is lacking at this point is his ability to do it at the highest level over a long-term period. He now has that opportunity on one of the top teams in the OHL this season. Will his draft stock rise, or will he struggle with the level of play that the OHL has to offer? That is the question.
Andreas Athanasiou – London Knights
Heading into last season, not to many people knew the name Andreas Athanasiou. He was drafted in the fourth round from the Midget Toronto Titans tournament without much fanfare. He was listed at five-foot-nine, 140-pounds and it did not seem as though he had that much upside. A few months into the season, Athanasiou showed us exactly what potential he did have, displaying a strong mix of offensive skills and physical play. He appeared to improve his puck handling and vision with the puck, and was also active physically. In December he was named to the Ontario U17 program, where he was a point-per-game producer. At that point, people started to take notice.
Athanasiou took his strong play at the U17 tournament back to the OHL, where the Hunters gave him more opportunities to display his developing skill set. Athanasiou flourished with the added opportunities. We fast forward to today, Athanasiou is one of the top players to watch in the Ontario Hockey League. His skill set has got him noticed, but what has people talking is his progression over the past year. If he has improved that much over the past 12 months, one can only imagine how good he will be in another 12 months.
Thomas Wilson – Plymouth Whalers
One of the more intriguing Ontario Hockey League prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft is Plymouth Whalers forward Tom Wilson. The six-foot-four, 200-pound Toronto native has all the projectable tools that you look for in a north to south power forward. His combination of size, strength and skill are something that you do not often see. Projected as a top nine forward on the Whalers, he will have every opportunity to show scouts what he has to offer.
The biggest question surrounding Wilson this season will be how much growth we see from his play last year. Wilson missed a significant potion of last season with a leg injury, and despite his good showing at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August, there are still questions about how he will adjust to life in the OHL this season.
Jesse Graham – Niagara Ice Dogs
One thing that NHL teams never seem to have enough of are high end offensive minded defensemen, who have the ability to skate a puck out of trouble and make crisp, accurate first passes. Jesse Graham is a defenseman who displays all those tools. Paired with Dougie Hamilton last season, Graham is a blueliner who could be moving up the draft charts quickly. He is one of the better skating defensemen in the league, and has the ability to generate offense out of the back end.
The questions that have surrounded him over the past few years are his size and strength. Although he is not one who is physically intimidated, he needs to show that he can battle physically against bigger and stronger forwards, while gaining on his successful rookie season. How well he plays in his own end, coupled with his expected offensive improvement, will go a long way in establishing his draft stock for the draft in June.
Ben Johnson – Windsor Spitfires
Six months ago Ben Johnson was a relatively unknown when it comes to the NHL landscape. With players like Jacob Trouba, Cristoval Nieves and Riley Barber getting a lot of attention from NHL scouts, Johnson was flying under the radar. Once Johnson finished his year in Calumet High School, he had the opportunity to play games for the United States National Development Team in the USHL, where he opens some eyes. One of the team that took notice was the Windsor Spitifres, who signed the Michigan forward out of the program.
Johnson’s skills are not in question,. He is an elite skater who plays with an edge. At lower levels he displayed strong puck handling and play making abilities, but the question is how does that skill transition to the OHL level? Is Johnson a late bloomer who will jump up the draft charts this season, or will he struggle against a higher level of competition? That debate will be answered within a few months.
Cody Ceci – Ottawa 67’s
Cody Ceci has always been a player with a strong pedigree. From his days with the Eastern Ontario Wild in Ottawa to life as a member of the 67’s, He has always been a player that has people talking. With that in mind, its no surprise to see him rated among the top of the 2012 NHL Draft, what could be surprising is his draft position and long term projectable upside. Over the past two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, Ceci has proven his positional play and ability to play a strong defensive brand of hockey. He has always shown strong positional play and an ability to bin puck battles in his own end. What is still to be determined is his offensive upside.
Over the past two years with the 67’s, Ceci has shown a good progression offensively, however the thought was that he would not be able to translate that offense to the next level. Ceci jumped out at me at the 2011 NHL Research and Development Camp as a player who has really made waves over the past six months with the offensive side of his game. His passes where crisp, accurate and he rarely made mistakes with the puck. He also displayed improved footwork and lateral movement, and showed me enough to wonder if the offensive projections of him are incorrect. Given the 67’s talent level and Ceci’s opportunity, this season will give us a great opportunity to judge if those projections are indeed accurate, or if Ceci can show that he has the offensive tools to move up the draft charts in June.
Sean Lafortune is an OHL-based scout for Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!