Thanks to Brock Otten of the excellent OHL Prospects site for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Follow him on Twitter @BrockOtten.
MLHS: Do you foresee anyone climbing the board late in the process to sneak into the top 10?
Brock Otten: Anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel about Robby Fabbri. He’s undersized, but because of the way he plays, I don’t have fear that his skill set won’t translate to the NHL level. He’s been great all season for Guelph, but really only started to rise after his OHL playoffs MVP performance. If he were 6’2, we’d be talking about someone rivaling Sam Bennett to be the first forward selected. Fabbri plays as hard as anyone on the ice, but he also has the skills to match his high energy output. He thinks the game well above his peers, has a bevy of skill with the puck and I think he projects at the type of player who can really put the puck in the net at the next level. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a team drafted him inside the top 10. The other guy I’ll mention is Swiss forward Kevin Fiala who really caught my attention at the Under 18s. Similar size concerns to Fabbri, but he’s got a ton of speed and skill and certainly didn’t look that out of place at the World Championships as a 17 year old (he turns 18 in July).
MLHS: If we take Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisatl off the board, who is the next best center, in your opinion?
Otten: Well, I’ve already mentioned Fabbri, he’s in the next grouping for sure. Besides him, I think you have to mention William Nylander, Ivan Barbashev, and Dylan Larkin. Nylander seems to be the consensus number 4 center behind the big 3, but there seems to be some concern over how hard he plays consistently. Certainly has the skill level to make an impact, as he showed at the U18’s. Barbashev is a big, hard nosed Russian center who projects as a strong two-way player at the next level. I’ve been impressed with what I saw of him in the Q this year, and at the Top Prospect’s Game. Lastly, Larkin is a late riser who is throwing himself into consideration for a lottery selection after a strong U18’s. He’s extremely quick, but also plays a 200 foot game and has displayed more offensively than scouts has originally thought he was capable of.
MLHS: We’ve discussed at MLHS the possibility of recouping a 2nd rounder (didn’t have one last year, don’t have one this year or next year) and trading down in this draft… Does Jared McCann strike you as too safe for a team that just drafted Frederik Gauthier in the mold of a checking line center last June?
Otten: I like Jared McCann a lot as a draft prospect, but I think it depends where you draft him. I think there are a lot of forwards with a ton of upside that could be available inside the top 15. But once those guys are gone, I’d consider McCann. Just because he’s an already capable two-way player and PK’er, doesn’t mean that he’s an automatic 3rd liner and nothing more. McCann has a terrific release and has serious goal scoring potential. Once he gains some strength, gets quicker, and learns how to read defenses, he could really put up points. The LA Kings have proven that you win championships by drafting guys like Gauthier and McCann, infusing a gritty element into your lineup.
MLHS: Much has been made about how there isn’t a “gen talent” in this draft.. what do you think of the top 10 overall, though? How well positioned do you think the Leafs are if they stick at #8?
Otten: I have no problem with the talent level of this draft. The issue is that people are already looking ahead to next year with two generational talents (perhaps three if you include Hanifin). But you can’t look past the things many of the players eligible this year were able to accomplish. Aaron Ekblad was the OHL’s defenseman of the year and I think he’s a lot better player and prospect than people are giving him credit for. In general, the depth of the high end talent is excellent. I see guys slated in the 10-15 range and can’t help but believe that these guys could be high impact players. In particular, I think this has the potential to be the OHL’s best crop of talent since 2003.
MLHS: Who is the most NHL ready prospect(s) out of the OHL this draft?
Otten: Most NHL ready is easily Aaron Ekblad. He’s a man child. He’ll be in the NHL next year, 100%. He’s ready. He’s big enough, has made enough improvements to his mobility, and has really stepped up his offensive game (confidence wise) in the past 12 months. He might go through some growing pains as he learns that he needs to play a bit more aggressively in the NHL, but he’ll be fine and I think he’s even capable of playing top 4 minutes. I don’t see anyone else being ready from the OHL. Sam Bennett needs to get stronger. Nick Ritchie needs to improve his conditioning and continue to stay healthy and gain confidence, and Michael Dal Colle needs to improve his 200 foot game.
MLHS: Do you share any of the concerns some have espoused about Nick Ritchie re: his size and age (8 months older than Virtanen, for instance) indicating there might be less upside/room to grow than some of the other prospects who didn’t have such mature physical frames in junior? 6’3, 230-pounds coming into the draft is more than tantalizing but there’s always the flipside of “did he dominate junior because he’s big?” Or is this an invented red flag?
Otten: There’s no question that Ritchie’s size has contributed to his success. But in a good way, not in a negative way as you may be implying. He’s a great prospect and takes over games not only because he’s a behemoth man, but because he’s incredibly skilled. Ritchie is a terrific puckhandler for a big man and defenses have a VERY tough time stopping him once he enters the zone with the puck because he’s able to make highly skilled plays to create space for himself, on top of using his size. He definitely didn’t dominate junior because he’s too big.
MLHS: What do you think of Anthony DeAngelo, who put up 71 points in 50 games for Sarnia off the blueline, as a potential hidden gem later in the draft?
Otten: Personally, I don’t think I’d draft DeAngelo. Definitely not in the first round, and likely not in the second. For as talented as he is (and he’s INCREDIBLY talented), there are too many red flags. He’s undersized for the position in the NHL. He’s been in the OHL for three years and his defensive game has not yet improved to the point where you would consider him ‘solid’ in his own end. And those suspensions for teammate abuse are obviously concerning, too.
My thoughts on drafting Ritchie too
Thing with Ritchie that is making the rounds on twitter, etc. is largely based on a swing and a miss (and a trade up) on Biggs based on him being a big, tough player—and potential power forward.
Biggs is a size first, skill second player.
Ritchie is a skilled player that also happens to be 6'3, 230lbs and a nasty piece of business.
@DeclanK @loomx Oh for sure. Ritchie has great skill. Good skater(not just for a big man), a good shot, and good hands. The Biggs comparisons are way off base. I just hope that if they pick him and let him hone that offensive skill instead of rushing him to the NHL because he's big, thereby stunting his offense.
Totally agree. If he's ready, he's ready and if he's not, then send him back (obvs). I compared him to Chris Stewart, which I thought was a fair comparison—and one where you absolutely avoid unfairly comparing him to Milan Lucic, but he has a better all-around game than both of them at the same age.
Projecting players that can't play the NHL isn't easy. There's a lot of these guys that we are talking about that will never have a significant NHL career, let alone be an impact NHL player.
@DWCMLHS @DeclanK @loomx Sorry, I was honestly asking. I haven't caught 1 OHL game this year, let alone seeing 15 of a single player, so I am going off highlight videos, which is doesn't shed a lot of light, obviously. Re-reading, it does look like I'm grilling you. Sorry.
The one thing that I can take out of it, is that players like Ehlers are scoring a lot of junior goals that backup NHL goalies will stop, generates mostly everything from outside the dots in the non-critical areas and makes moves on the D that NHL defenceman would laugh at.
Ritchie has his share of jr goals, but he's got a lot of "That's a goal in any league" type goals. Just think his game translates into an NHL game more than a lot of the rest.
Again, haven't seen him play live, or the others.
@TheGroobster @DeclanK @loomx I like to think he's similar to Zach Kassian, who at 19 was arguably both dominant physically and productively.
And as a prospect, you have too think back to the idea the ball was really in his court and he had this untapped potential and ended up more in a grinding role. The difference between being a role player and being an impact player was literally a slim margin which has yet to be achieved, and quite possibly never be.
@DeclanK @loomx I think people often forget to mention that Biggs was selected 22nd overall and right now Ritchie is in 10th overall according to the NHL's scouts. Obviously some teams have him higher or lower but I think that is something you have to look at and respect. They are different players.
@Jmessih I wish we could just draft his back hander and put it on Ehlers or Ritchie. Jake's got a sick back hand shot.
Is there anyone in the draft other than Ekblad that can play in the NHL next year? I'm thinking no. Maybe Sam Reinhart but probably just Ekblad
@Fish Head Some scouts saying Ekblad might not.
If Bennett, Ekblad, Reinhart, Draisatl, Dal Colle, Ehlers, and Ritchie are gone by the time the Leafs pick, the Leafs should explore trading back for a second rounder, because it doesn't seem to me that there is much difference, in terms of probabilities of NHL success, between the next ten or so prospects.
@MaxwellHowe I do have a feeling that we are moving up to 5th with reims or franny going with our 1sr rd pick...
@whalz @MaxwellHowe fair point, but he DID fall on account of that, it does raise concerns, tho a knee is more serious
@MaxwellHowe well..looks like we did ok with Morgan Reilly when teams passed on him after he missed basically the whole yr...
@whalz @MaxwellHowe nothing about that sentence raise a red flag?
@whalz @MaxwellHowe not sure he stands out that much
virtanen would be a solid addition if he slipped to us......
scouts were raving about him before his surgery was announced.
@whalz @MaxwellHowe If Leon is available, OH YES
@MaxwellHowe Nylander or Virtanen
@MaxwellHowe lets hope so....
This is what makes the 8th pick so tough, after Ekblad, 2 Sam's and The German Gretzky it seems like a toss up.........The opinions vary quite a bit, I really like Ritchie, Ehlers, and Virtanen after the Top 4
The whole Fabbri topic is interesting because his talent and consistent effort makes him sound like an Oshie type, even though I may be grabbing at straws on that one
Nylander sounds all world, but his inconsistency has that Semin feel to it
The one thing I always like about a kids game is the ability to play physical and get dirty........it tells me if you're not talent doesn't make the jump as expected that you might be able play a greasier game to reach your potential
@Ydargo Nylander will be closer to Forsberg than Semin. I'm not saying he'll be like Forsberg but more like him in talent than Semin
@TheCanucksnaphook @Ydargo Fabbri, I agree with Brock, is probably a little underrated. As much as you say "knocked off the puck easily" Fabbri NEVER shy's away from the dirty area and the physical nature of his game does not disappear in the face of some of the more intimidating players in the OHL.
I will cite this over and over but the night I saw Darnell Nurse try all night to get in Fabbri's kitchen, and Fabbri served up a game winner hat trick at Nurse's expense, I'm sold that his size will not deter him from making an impact. That was in December when he was ranked early second, later first, and I think you're seeing a lot of scouts questioning that size concern.
His tenacity, skillset, and goal-scoring abilities, mixed in a small package which had doubters reminds me of a Martin St Louis.
If you were the NYI who would you pick assuming the Sams are gone, as is ekblad and the German.
Who do you pick?
Who does Snow pick?
So thanks to the gracious assistance of Phook, I can now link the Canucks fan site article about Virtanen / Ehlers:
VERY interesting article at canucksarmy.com about why the Canucks should draft Ehlers over Virtanen - very good read from our perspective. I would link but just learning to use MacBook Pro
@Anthony Petrielli hahaha I wouldn't post it here . I put it in the mashup
@Anthony Petrielli Ritchie is too slow for the NHL. He'll be a bust. You can't teach speed and we need to be fast.
@Anthony Petrielli @Fish Head No not live but film and highlights. He seems to muscle his way more than have that quick burst of speed like a Virtanen does who by the way was left off your list. Virtanen has speed and is one of the youngest in the draft. I would take him before Ritchie in a big way.
@Anthony Petrielli @Fish Head Yeah, not bad but I say that he uses his size very well, more so than looking like a speedster. Just not sure that he will dominate the same way when he's playing with the big boys. I still like Virtanen more. I'm hoping Nylander will be there and if not then either Virtanen or Ehlers