OHL crop looking better than expected

Dan Stewart2016 Draft Center, OHL

Initial looks last winter had the Ontario Hockey League crop for 2016 appearing less than stellar, but with some high-end guys coming over from the U.S. system and a few marquee additions through the Import Draft, the yield once again promises to produce some strong talent.

The most highly touted prospect in the OHL this season is undoubtedly Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakob Chychrun. The son of former NHL tough guy Jeff Chychrun, Jakob is a physically well-built kid who utilizes a complete game of staunch physical defensive play coupled with some highlight reel worthy offensive rushes.

“Jakob is a talented defenseman that is both physically gifted and has elite hockey sense,” one FC evaluator said of Chychrun. “It shows immediately when you see him, but my favourite aspect of his game is what little hesitation he plays with. He just keeps on coming at the other team with different ways to attack.”

Chychrun should be the top challenger to American-born center Auston Matthews for the No. 1 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo this June.

The London Knights made the biggest off-season splash by attracting a pair of high-end American kids from the U.S. National Development Program last year and one of the top available European prospects available via the Import draft. American wingers Matthew Tkachuk, son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, and Max Jones, son of former NHLer Brad Jones, both join a talented forward group in London, who could challenge for the Memorial Cup this season.

Tkachuk a smart, hardworking, gritty, but offensively skilled winger that makes a positive impact on every aspect of the game. Jones, however, is that throw-back style “run you over to get to the puck” type of power winger with a wicked shot that ironically Tkackuk’s father was more known for during his NHL days.

The other big add for London this spring was Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi.

FC’s Helsinki-based evaluator has liked what he’s seen out of the potential top-15 selection for at the 2016 draft.

“He’s a poised minute-muncher with very good size and strength for a young defenseman,” he said. “He makes excellent plays in the defensive zone, using his stick and body to take pucks away and clear the zone. He does a very nice job of moving the puck, showing a sharp first pass and excellent vision. Understands the game extremely well and also has good mobility. Juolevi’s poise consistently stands out.”

With the Mississauga Steelheads, center Mike McLeod is one to keep an eye.

McLeod plays a high-energy two-way game that blends finesse with grit. His skating and compete level are his best assets right now as the rest of his game continues to develop at a rapid pace.

“He is strong on his feet, moving fluidly and with high levels of speed, of,” a FC evaluator noted of McLeod. “He uses his frame to shield the puck exceptionally well; will adjust his body to dig deep and protect it against defenders.

“He cycles with ease thanks to his size and smarts, again using his frame to fight off checks and create some space for himself. The speed of this kid with the puck is very impressive, as he has no problem with grabbing a loose puck at center and flying down the wing and entering the zone. McLeod plays a strong, up-tempo, no quit game.”

American-born blueliner Sean Day, who was granted exceptional status three years ago, has lost some steam with his work ethic and ability to process the game drawing criticism from some evaluators. However, what doesn’t get questioned is his breathtaking skating ability and high-end offensive game. He should be a big point producer from the back end this season and starts out ranked just outside our first round.

Imported from Sweden, winger Alexander Nylander, brother of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander, joins Mississauga this season where his skilled and intelligent game, which comes as a package of soft hands, creative playmaking and impressive skating, should lead to impressive offensive numbers.

Erie Otters winger Alex DeBrincat, the CHL’s reigning rookie of the year, has some size concerns but has proven to not let his lack of height hold him back at the major-junior level. DeBincat’s ability to find the net is a natural gift that is not something many junior players possess. We expect a NHL team to step up and scoop him within the first couple of rounds.

Sault Ste. Marie big power winger Tim Gettinger is another guy on the borderline of the first round, who has the ability if he continues to develop his skating to move well up. His immense size, strong senses, ability to protect the puck and solid shot make him very intriguing.

Russian import winger Dmitri Sokolov is a guy who looked very good as a 16-year-old dominating a few international events last season. We expect the same in his rookie OHL season the Sudbury Wolves, where he will be paired with first overall OHL Draft pick David Levin.

“He is a heavy man with a powerful stride and someone who can lay some crushing checks,” a FC evaluator said of the Omsk, Russia product. “Has good speed as he protects the puck and drives to the net hard. Has a real heavy shot. Puck hungry and shows a determination to have it on his stick as he pushes the pace and move the puck up ice.”

With the Windsor Spitfires, American center Logan Brown, son of former NHLer Jeff Brown, has also turned heads as a potential first round selection. Brown possesses impressive size, the ability to protect the puck and a professional-calibre shot.

The knock on him is his consistency but if he can show that was a rookie deficiency last year and bring the effort each and every night he has top-10 potential.

Brown’s teammate and Windsor’s 2015 import from Russia is also seen early as first round material by our evaluators. Mikhail Sergachyov has come in for the Spits and is already getting top defensive minutes, playing in all situations and showing a strong physical element. Sergachev is a feisty, mobile defenseman that beats you will his quick first step and sharp mind.

Which rise, and which stumble, remain to be seen as the NHL Draft season hits full swing.