OHLers up-and-down in draft discussions

Sean Lafortune2013 Draft Center, OHL0 Comments

With the Ontario Hockey League Season well underway, it’s an interesting time for draft prospects.

Some have cemented top status, some are impressing with their improved play, some are struggling through injuries and others are struggling to meet the expectations that where placed on them heading into the season.

One player who has really stood out thus far has been Belleville Bulls goaltender Malcolm Subban. His combination of size and agility make him one of the more impressive goaltenders in Ontario.

He is excellent at taking up space and eliminating areas for shooters, while also showing strong lateral movement and footwork. Subban has proven this season that he is one of the league’s best big-game goaltenders, playing up to the situation. He also has become the league’s best shootout goaltender. The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman PK Subban can cheat a little, going down low sooner then he should, which is something to watch moving forward. He also can struggle with rebounds on quick shots that he does not have the opportunity to get set for. That said, Subban has overtaken Daniel Altshuller as the top goaltender in the age group, not only in Ontario, but perhaps the entire draft.

In my preseason players to watch column I talked about Ben Johnson, a speedy forward who was making the transition from US High School to life in the OHL. What interested me in him was his offensive potential and I was excited to see him in the Ontario Hockey Leauge. In his first few months in the league, Johnson was struggling to catch up to the pace of play. He was in a feeling-out period and was learning more about the league and what he needed to be successful. In November, Johnson really came into his own, and is starting to show some of that promise that I envisioned three months ago. Over the past six games, he has collected 12 points and has really stepped up his game. We are starting to see why I have him as one of the hidden gems in this draft.

Another player who has really come on as of late is Kitchener Rangers forward Radek Faksa. After watching him in the first few game of pre-season, Faksa looked like he had potential, but I wasn’t sure if he would be able to transition to the OHL’s style of game. Over the past month, he’s put those concerns to bed, and is moving up my personal rankings because of it. His skill and mobility have impressed, as has his ability to fight through checks and play a North American style of game. Faksa’s combination of size, mobility and skill give him a very high ceiling, and is one that is really rising in the rankings for the 2012 NHL Draft.

Thomas Wilson is another player that is starting to fulfill his potential. He is another big-bodied, north-to-south forward who has a high amount of projectable tools. He has strong footwork and acceleration, specifically for his size, and is aggressive in the offensive zone. He sees the ice well and makes some very impressive plays with the puck in both the neutral and offensive zone. If he continues to impress, he should be a late first round draft pick.

A player who I really feel is struggling is Andres Athanasiou. He’s a player who has all the tools to be one of the top draft eligibles in Ontario, but how he is using those tools are leaving a lot of doubts in my mind. A lot of the same issues that I have seen in the past, a lack of physicality and consistency, are presenting themselves in the last month. He is not very active physically and not overly aggressive. By no means do I want him to play to a weakness (lack of strength), but I really think that showing a willingness to drive the net and battle through traffic will make him a better player. Athanasiou has time, but another month of similar play will not do him any favors.

A player with good potential but that continues to struggle is Kingston Frontenacs defenceman Alex Gudbranson. Gudbranson has disappointed since returning from an injury, and is still struggling with the pace of play. His lack of progression is a big red flag for me. He struggles with his vision and outlet passes, as well as his lateral movement and overall agility. I have seen some slow improvements in his game, but thus far those improvements have been few and far between.

Smiply put, Marcus McIvor should be producing more. McIvor continues to show a smart positional game, but has yet to really push himself offensively. Drafted out of Whitby as a puck mover, McIvor has the ability to make strong outlet passes and generate more offense, but he seems content to sit back and dump the puck off the boards and not take any risks with the puck. There is s something to be said for that, but not when you have the tools and talent that McIvor has. If teammate Dylan Blujus can do it with less offensive potential, then McIvor should be able to push it as well, despite a restrictive defensive style that Stan Butler plays in Brampton.

Injuries are always an issue in draft years. It can take a top prospect hurt his draft stock, and raise questions as to the long-term health issues in prospects.

The one prospect that I identified in my pre-season players to watch article was Matia Marcantuoni. I mentioned how it was important for Marantuoni to have a healthy and productive season in order to maintain his then current draft stock.

Unfortunately, he’s done the exact opposite. After suffering two concussions and now an undisclosed shoulder injury, Marcantuoni has nothing but questions around him. Even before the shoulder injury, his play had become very perimeter, skating north-to-south, taking low percentage shots and not driving the net or traveling into areas where he would have to play a gritty style of game. He still has all the talent and potential that we all saw in him years ago, but once he is healed from his latest injury, Marcantuoni needs to get back to the player that he was last year, one that impressed with both his dynamic offensive skills and his ability to drive the net and generate offense off the rush.

Sean Lafortune is an area 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!

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