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).
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.