Brock Otten provides one of the best online resources for scouting reports and player information on the Ontario Hockey League over at his OHL Prospects blog. With that in mind, and with the draft now just three weeks away, we bugged him for his insights on the 2015 draft class.

Thanks to Brock for taking the time. Be sure to read his series on the OHL’s top 50 2015 Draft-eligible prospects:

MLHS: Let’s get this out of the way and start with the obvious — where do you stand on the Dylan Strome vs. Mitch Marner question, if both are sitting there at four for the Leafs?

Otten: I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with either player for the Leafs. They’re so close in value for me. So do the Leafs need a talented, rangy center or a playmaking winger (where Marner projects to play at the next level, IMO) more? In my opinion, the answer is both. Toronto is early into their rebuild (which is likely to really commence around the draft) and that means taking the best player available, because there are needs in all areas. But, I suppose I have to give a more concrete answer to your question. In that case, I think it’s Marner. He’s the more dynamic player and has a greater ability to play a fast tempo game (which was a trademark of both Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas’ junior teams). With Hunter in the Leafs front office, I think the Knights connection is also obvious. But again, you can’t go wrong with either player. Strome’s size and smarts makes him an ideal center in Kyle Dubas’ lineup, where time of possession is key.

MLHS: It’s no secret the concern with Dylan Strome for some people is his skating… McKeen’s has him down at 7 on their list partly due to concerns about his feet. What do you make of it? Does it limit him now (hard to have a better draft season offensively), and will it limit him at the next level?

Otten: Strome’s skating does need to be improved, there’s no question about it. But I actually felt that it improved already over the course of this season. He’s never going to be a burner, but if he can work on his first few steps, it’ll make him that much better. I don’t see it hurting him at the NHL level though. With his size, smarts, and hands, he makes up for it. His stride and style is not all that different from Sean Monahan’s and look at how quickly he’s found success at the NHL level.

MLHS: If the knock on Strome is skating, the question with Marner is obviously size. More interesting to us, though: Do you think Marner has a shot at being at center in the NHL (if not right away, after some development time on the wing)? For a “skilled high-scoring winger” he’s got a reputation for being reasonably hard working defensively; most London products are said to have been schooled on the 200 foot game a little more than others. He also obviously has spent some time at center, which is why we ask.

Otten: Ultimately, I think Marner’s skill set makes him a better option on the wing. His ability to be the first man in on the forecheck, and create offense off the wall, is something all NHL wingers are asked to do now. Having a big center to play with, who can gain entry to the zone and who can let Marner utilize his speed coming down the wing, would be the ideal situation. As you mentioned, he is defensively responsible, so that’s not an issue. I think it has more to do with the way the NHL has evolved, with big guys playing down the middle and smaller, speedy guys on the wing. Obviously, Marner is quick enough and skilled enough to have a shot down the middle. But, as I said…I think his skill set would be best utilized on the wing.

MLHS: Drifting from the OHL briefly… Do you get the sense that a team might consider trading down and drafting Mathew Barzal, thinking he’s got just as much upside as some of the guys ahead of him right now on the draft boards while picking up an extra asset or two?

Otten: I don’t get to see a ton of WHL games, but I’ll tell you what. Barzal impressed the heck out of me at the U18’s. He was one of the most dynamic players in the tournament. At this point, if you like Barzal enough, you’ve probably got to take him pretty high or run the risk of a team trading up to get him (rather than a team trading down to take him as you suggested). If a team is trading down from the Top 5-6, they’re probably doing it with a guy like Kyle Connor or Brock Boeser in mind. High risk, high rewards types who seem to be more in that 10-15 range.

MLHS: Lawson Crouse has crept up on a lot of draft lists. If we compare him to last year’s big winger—Nick Ritchie—the stats are not really comparable. Both were on poor teams, but Ritchie ripped the league up with 40 goals in 61 games, which is elite goal scoring. Is Crouse being overrated right now due to teams reaching for the ever elusive power forward? Are they reaching for a player that doesn’t really have that package of skill, size and aggressiveness?

Otten: While Ritchie and Crouse are definitely both “power forward” prospects, they’re actually quite different players. Ritchie is the more dynamic player. He creates a lot of his scoring chances off the rush, using his size, speed, and stick handling ability to create space for himself on the way to the net. Where as Crouse is a more methodical player who gets himself in good scoring position, operates coming off the wall and is still learning how to use his size/speed to drive the net. Even if Ritchie played on a poor team, he had some quality playmakers to get him the puck. Crouse didn’t have that this year (without Bennett and Watson for most of the season). He didn’t get a lot of “easy” goals because his linemates weren’t able to generate much along with him. The other thing to keep in mind is that Crouse is miles ahead as a two-way player. His play without the puck and overall hockey sense in all three zones is significantly better than Ritchie’s. He’s also a good candidate to wear a “C” one day. When you factor in all those things, you’ve got yourself a very complete player, not just a power forward still finding his offensive touch. That’s why he’s an alluring pick inside the Top 10. The Kings and Hawks have been winning Cups with guys like this playing prominent roles.

MLHS: Travis Konecny had an up and down year… He was projected to have a big year after 70 pts in 63 last season, but he posted about the same points per game in his draft year. He did turn it on down the stretch. Was there something else about his season that revived it, or was it him playing more comfortably on the wing? Does he project more as a winger, in your view?

Otten: I actually thought that Ottawa had a great season. This was a team that came into the season with a lot of question marks. They’re a young squad, so to have finished 4th is a huge accomplishment for them. Unfortunately they ran into a Niagara team that was a better team than their standing (underperformed the first half of the year), and they couldn’t beat them without Konecny once he went down due to injury. In terms of what turned his game around… I think at the beginning of the year he was trying to do too much. He was really pressing because he was trying to force things in the offensive end, and as such he was very turnover prone. But right around the CHL Top Prospect’s Game, the light seemed to go on and he simplified his approach, getting back to using his speed to create chances with and without the puck. He’s a high energy player and I think that’s why there have been some concerns about his ability to play at the NHL level and avoid injury. There’s no question that he’ll need to get stronger, but if you’re drafting in the 18-25 range, he’s a solid selection based on the leadership, tenacity and skill he brings to the ice. As for positionally, yes, I think his game projects significantly better on the wing.

MLHS: Here are Bob McKenzie’s final rankings, hot off the press. Any major disagreements there on his top 10, or his top 30? Anyone too high or too low, in your opinion?

Otten: Interesting to see Bob’s list out so early this year. Usually it’s the week before the draft (after the combine and interviews). Quite frankly, I don’t have any major gripes with the way he’s ranked the OHL guys. Some people are going to be surprised to see Zacha at 6, but I actually expected it. His U18 performance likely sold scouts on his potential, if they were on the fence following a disrupted OHL season. It’s still a bit high for me (I still have questions about Zacha’s upside, cough, Radek Faksa, cough), but it’s certainly not incredibly surprising. Neither is the fact that only 6 OHL players landed in the top 30. Lots of undersized defenders and project forwards from the Ontario Hockey League for the 2nd/3rd (although one or two may jump into the late first), As always, Bob’s list is a terrific measuring stick.

MLHS: With Pavel Zacha, is it possible the injury and awful team have him undervalued? Craig Button wasn’t in love with his upside; just like you, he said he thought he was more like a Radek Faksa, which is not a bad player by any means, but that’s not really top 10 upside. Button also said he saw him as more of a winger. This was a bit earlier in the year, and he may have changed his outlook on him slightly. On paper, good size + decent skating + hands + big shot + he’s played center… That sounds intriguing. What’s the rub with him?

Otten: Honestly, with Zacha it comes down to how you view his vision/hockey sense. All the other stuff is there (as you mentioned, size, skill, tenacity). Some guys feel like he has good vision and that as his confidence grows, you’ll see his ability to create plays mature. Other guys (like Button and I), seem to question how well he sees the ice and ultimately that’s going to be the deciding factor when it comes to his NHL potential. I will tell you one thing though. The guys who really like Zacha, are the ones who saw him a lot this year (like Brendan Ross at McKeens). The guys who are iffy on him (like me), are the ones who had relatively limited exposure to him because of his injuries/suspension/WJC appearances. Every time I saw Sarnia live this year, he was out of the line up (tough luck). Maybe he’s the type of guy you really need to view a ton to gain an appreciation for what he could bring to the table. Food for thought anyway.

MLHS: If you were to pick a “sleeper” out of the OHL ranks, a player who is projected to go maybe late first round or into the second but you feel should be closer to the top 10 in terms of potential, who are you taking?

Otten: I’ll throw two out there. First is Vince Dunn. Has as much upside as any defender in this draft. His skating ability, coupled with his stick handling ability, makes him a serious offensive threat. In his final 32 games (including playoffs), he had 17 goals! That’s over a goal every other game. That type of production from a defender is pretty rare. He’ll need to work on his decision making, add bulk (strength), and improve his defensive game, but he has the potential to develop into a premier offensive defender at the NHL level. The second one is Zach Senyshyn. His game is quite raw, but he’s already one of the best skaters in the OHL and he understands how to use his speed to create scoring chances (aggressive in driving the net). As he gets stronger, I expect his game to really round out. Could be a dynamite goal scorer if everything goes perfectly.

MLHS: Last question – we talked sleepers, I want to ask for a name or two as a potential “deep sleeper” out of the OHL. Anybody that is projected to go very late or maybe not at all that you think should be more on the radar?

Otten: I’ll give you three.
1) Brett McKenzie in North Bay. He was drafted as an offensive first center, but it’s his two-way game that has grown under Stan Butler (go figure). As he starts to get more ice time and more skilled linemates, he could really explode offensively. Butler brings his forwards along slowly. The next Nick Paul?
2) Colton White in Sault Ste. Marie. Solid defenceman buried on a good team, he has the potential to be a very solid two-way guy with plus mobility/skating. Could really break out next year.
3) Cameron Lizotte in Peterborough. Tough as nails defender who is among the most physical players in the OHL. He improved a ton defensively over the course of the season and has the potential to develop into a top quality shutdown defender. All three guys are slated to go in the mid rounds, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if one or all three go inside the Top 100.

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