With the Ontario Hockey League schedule six months deep, trends are starting to emerge and players have established themselves.
Players like Brendan Gaunce and Matt Finn continue to impress, while others are struggling to find their game as their seasons come to a close.
And like Gaunce and Finn, Olli Maatta is really starting to come into his own in the OHL.
Initially, Maatta was a bit inconsistent, struggling with his vision with the puck and his ability to make smart decisions in all three zones. This past month, Maatta has really improved his game and is no doubt the leader of the Knights defense core. He continues to show strong mobility and positional play, but is starting to show some really strong vision with the puck, and is starting to blossom on the blueline for the Knights. There are still some concerns about his long term projectable upside, but one cant argue his play in the month of February.
Heading into the season, Gianluca Curcuruto was a name to watch as a potential first round draft selection for the NHL Draft. Many loved his mobility and offensive skills, and his overall projectable skills.
Sadly, Curcuruto didn’t live up to those standards during the start of the season. Fast forward to February, and he is starting to really get his game together. Curcuruto is showing more confidence with the puck, and instead of simply dumping the puck out of his own zone, he is now skating the puck up the ice, reading the play and making strong decisions. He has shown the growth over the past month that all had hoped to see all season. Curcuruto is much more poised on the point, and is starting to show why so many had him as one of the top defenseman for the draft.
Is it too little too late? Probably, but if he keeps it up, an NHL team may find a gem in the middle rounds of the NHL Draft.
Scott Laughton was really on his game during the month of February.
Earlier in the season, Laughton was stuck in a rut, playing third line minutes with limited powerplay time. However, once the Generals brought in Gary Agnew to coach, that all changed.
Now, Laughton has really pushed his name back into first round consideration. He is playing top minutes and thriving. He is showing an ability to play intelligent hockey at both ends of the ice and is producing offensively at a rate that was higher then expected.
Does he go in the first round? Probably not, but his play in the month of February really has put his name back in the conversation.
Daniil Zharkov started the season as a relative unknown.
This month, he really took steps forward and is showing that he may be one of the most interesting Ontario based players for the NHL Draft.
Zharkov is all about potential. His combination of size, mobility and puck skills are extremely interesting. Despite playing in the USHL last year, he started off his OHL career fairly slow. He battled injuries, and at times looked lost in viewings.
However, he now seems to be ‘getting it’. He’s more assertive with the puck, and is starting to really come into his own, He’s more assertive physically, and is growing into the player that a lot of people where projecting early in the season. He still has a lot of room to grow with his intelligence and instincts both with and without the puck, but his high ceiling will make him one of the most intriguing names to watch as the NHL draft moves closer.
Adam Pelech has had an ugly draft year.
It didn’t start off that way, during the summer Pelech thrived in international competitions, and was set to really push for a top-20 selection for the NHL Draft. He looked to be growing as a player and showed really high projectable skills.
However, this season has been a struggle for him. From the beginning of the season to his wrist injury, this season has been one that has left a lot of tough one for Pelech. He rejoined the Otters in the second half of the season, but has struggled to show that top-30 potential that he showed over the summer. He slowly is starting to regain some of that potential that we had seen from him in the beginning of the year, but one would have thought that he would have shown bigger improvement to this point. He probably won’t be a first round draft selection, but still has some time to prove that the initial thoughts there correct.
Patrik Machac is a smart player. He shows good two-way play and is strong positionally. When he came into the OHL this year, right away many were impressed with his skills level and elusiveness, but wondered about his strength. He didn’t struggle with the willingness, but lots wondered about his ability to sustain his play over eight months.
With the calendar turned to February, all are starting to see some of those issues emerge. He looks to be a player that has hit a wall at times. He is not nearly as dynamic with the puck as he was in the beginning of the season, and one has to wonder if the longer schedule and physical play has taken its toll on him. Given that the Battalion are still favorites to go far in the playoffs, it will be imperative for him to get back to the player that we saw months ago, not the one that looks to be struggling now.
Michael Clarke has really struggled in the Month of February.
In previous months, Clarke looked to be a skilled forward who played a smart two way game. He looked strong with the puck in the offensive zone, and showed some really growth with the puck.
However in February, he has really hit a wall, which has lead to questions as to what his long term potential is. He still is showing the work ethic and two-way game that we all liked, but the results are not there, and more importantly, he looks like a player who is lacking offensive confidence. Is that simply a rut? Is he just experiencing a bump in the road? Or is this indicative of a more long-term issue that could affect his draft status?
The answer to that question will probably present itself in the final month of the season.