With the 2013-14 OHL season slated to start tonight, I figured I would give my preliminary top 10 OHL prospects for the 2014 draft in Philadelphia. For the next several weeks I will be ranking my top 10 prospects in each CHL league, plus Europe and the USHL. Originally, I thought the 2014 class as a whole would be a step down from last year in terms of overall talent. However, after months of watching film and scouting that may not be the case at all. This crop of OHL prospects has the potential to be one of the strongest the league has ever produced, with several players having a chance to be stars at the NHL level.
1. Aaron Ekblad (D) Barrie Colts
Ekblad is one of only three players in OHL history to be granted exceptional status, which means he was eligible for the OHL draft at age 15. The other two players are New York Islanders captain John Tavares and current Erie Otters prodigy Connor McDavid. Standing at 6’4, 213 pounds, Ekblad is a man amongst boys in the OHL. He’s Barrie’s top defenseman and the best defender in the CHL. He’s a prototypical two-way defenseman with a hard and accurate shot. He moves the puck well and uses his size to his advantage. Barring any major setbacks, Ekblad should be a top three pick come June. I believe he would have been a top five pick this past year if he was eligible. He’ll be a franchise defenseman at the NHL level. It doesn’t hurt that his agent and mentor is the great Robert Gordon Orr.
2. Michael Dal Colle (LW) Oshawa Generals
Coming off an impressive 48 point rookie season last year, Dal Colle has grabbed the attention of NHL scouts and has vaulted himself into top 10 consideration for the draft. He’s a rangy forward who displays excellent hockey sense and can flat out snipe the puck. He’ll need to work on his skating, as his stride reminds me of Jason Spezza and John Tavares. He has sluggish feet and his acceleration is not good. With Boone Jenner, Tyler Biggs, Lucas Lessio and possibly Scott Laughton all gone it will be interesting to see how Dal Colle handles tougher assignments this season. If Laughton leaves, I think a move to center would benefit Dal Colle’s growth.
3. Nick Ritchie (LW) Peterborough Petes
He’s the brother of Dallas Stars prospect and ex-Niagara Ice Dog Brett Ritchie. Like his brother, he’s a big power forward standing at 6’2, 205 pounds. He’s an excellent two-way player, with good hockey sense and some downright slick puck skills. What I like about Ritchie the most is that he’s a 200 foot player. He excels not only on the attack, but he is proficient his own zone. If he avoids injury and continues his aggressive two-way play, he could become a top five overall pick.
4. Jared McCann (C) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
He was selected 4th overall by the Greyhounds in the 2012 OHL draft after posting gaudy numbers for the London Jr. Knights Gold minor midget team. He’s possibly the most intelligent player I’ve seen play in years. He understands how the game is played and makes players around him better. He had 21 goals and 23 assists last year in Sault Ste. Marie and I would expect him to double those totals this year. Anytime you have a responsible two-way centerman like McCann, he’ll be in consideration to go in the top 10.
5. Blake Clarke (LW) North Bay Battalion
The Wildwood, MO native stepped right into a woeful Battalion lineup and contributed right away. Clarke’s 51 points were good for second on the team. He’s an aggressive, physical forward who thrives down low in the offensive zone. He has quick hands and a heavy shot which allows him to pounce on loose pucks. I’ve seen some early projections for Clarke going anywhere from three to five overall; however I see him more in the 10-15 range. Clarke is a taller Bo Horvat.
6. Sam Bennett (C) Kingston Frontenacs
He helped Team Canada win gold at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament recording three goals and four points in five games. He’s an elusive forward who uses his elite skating ability to create offense off the rush. He tallied 18 goals and 40 points in his rookie campaign with Kingston last year. He’ll need to add a lot of weight, since he’s only 168 pounds, if he wants to be a top 20 selection. I expect Bennett to play a major role with the up-and-coming Frontenacs this season.
7. Roland McKeown (D) Kingston Frontenacs
McKeown is the definition of a puck moving/rushing defenseman. His outlet passes are crisp and his top-end speed and acceleration is a pleasure to watch. He’s a solid shut down defender as well who is always in position to make a play. I’m extremely high on this kid and I certainly think he could be a top five pick.
8. Nikolai Goldobin (RW) Sarnia Sting
Dynamic. Crafty. Dazzling. These are all words to describe Nikolai Goldobin. He was selected by Sarnia with the 36th overall pick in the CHL import draft after being recommended by his agent Igor Larionov. He has incredible vision and an offensive skillset that rivals former Sting standout Nail Yakupov. He led the OHL in goals (30) and points (68) for all rookie skaters last season. That includes Connor McDavid. The downside of Goldobin is that he plays no defense whatsoever. He’ll need to improve his defensive game and overall drive if he wants to be a top 10 ten pick.
9. Ryan MacInnis (C) Kitchener Rangers
I was hesitant to even put MacInnis on this list since he hasn’t played a game in the OHL. However, the son of Hall of Fame defensemen Al MacInnis has all the tools to be a top player in the OHL next season. He uses his size (6’3) and quickness to make space for himself and others on the ice. He has solid-puck handling skills and he’s responsible in his own end. He played last year for the USNTDP U-17 team. He’ll need to improve his skating a bit and must add to his 174 pound frame.
10. Anthony DeAngelo (D) Sarnia Sting
The Sewell, NJ native is an undersized offensive defenseman. He loves to dangle his way up the ice and his puck handling skills are incredible to watch. However, his toe-drags and risky decisions happen all too often leading to odd man rushes and turnovers the other way. He’ll need to control his temper as well. DeAngelo was third among all OHL defenseman last season with 58 points and should be right there again this year. There is a lot of P.K. Subban to his game.
*This is subject to change as the year progresses.