June 23 2016 05:00PM
(image courtesy of Aaron Bell and CHL Images)
This season, I spent 50 nights in Ontario Hockey League rinks, viewing and tracking draft eligible prospects. That data, in tandem with the observations of the players, was used in a series of “OHL Game Notes” posts over at Buckeye State Hockey. With the draft coming up, what better time to post all of the data, along with some charts and other notes about the prospects?
There is a “small sample size” issue with most of these players. Try as I might, I only had 3-7 games tracked of all but three players. I won’t include any players here who I tracked less than three times. What I will do instead is to add a line for “All Other Forwards” and “All Other Defenders” – those of who I viewed only once or twice, but want to at least get their data in here. All of their data will be lumped together into one line to serve as an extra reference point for the other players.
While I feel this data is informative, it is not a be-all, end-all guide to the players. That would be impossible to get from the sample. So take this for what it is: a glimpse into the skill set and performance of the players.
I profiled a number of these players throughout the season, and links to their individual profiles will be provided where possible.
For reference, here are the players under the “All Other Forwards” and “All Other Defensemen” banner, and the amount of games tracked for them:
CORSI AND SCORING
(All stats are per-game rates. Offensive zone start percentage calculated by dividing offensive zone starts from the total of offensive/defensive/neutral zone starts as well as shifts started “on the fly”. Multiple face-offs on the same “shift” are counted in the totals.)
McLeod and Nylander are the two players that I’m relatively confident that the data does give a very good representation of their season-long performance. They were quite clearly the top two players for the Steelheads, and the offense flowed through them. I would wager that the majority of the team was hovering on the wrong side of 50% Corsi throughout the season, but McLeod and Nylander consistently outperformed that. At times, they were outmatched, especially against other top lines in the league – many of which consisted of 19 and 20 year old forwards – but for the most part, dominated play against other teams.
Matthew Tkachuk lead all players in Corsi% over the games tracked. Olli Juolevi wasn’t too far behind. Max Jones was also at 57% in the games tracked. This is a nice illustration of the strength of the Knights team as a whole. What’s interesting is to note the discrepancy in the Corsi For category between Tkachuk and Jones. Jones’ line often included JJ Piccinich on right wing and Cliff Pu at centre and was used as a secondary or tertiary scoring line. While they didn’t generate a blast of offense like the vaunted Tkachuk/Dvorak/Marner line, they were still very strong defensively and owned a strong offensive zone possession game.
The Erie duo of Raddysh and DeBrincat were together for the majority of the games I tracked, and in the two games where they started the game apart, they were reunited by the end of it.
Mikhail Sergachev is down at the bottom of the CF% list, and though I don’t feel that this points to him being a bad player or anything crazy like that, it serves to drive home that his defensive game is a work in progress. He tends to wander around in the zone, often chasing puck-carriers or drifting out of position. He’s big, strong, fast, and smooth, but needs to learn to stay grounded and play a stronger positional game. Teammate Logan Stanley posted positive Corsi numbers but didn’t really have a productive offensive game to speak of, despite taking more shot attempts per game than Sergachev.
Kitchener’s Adam Mascherin lead all tracked players in individual Corsi, averaging just under five per game. Mascherin was dangerous in the “home plate” area of the ice, often sneaking in behind defenders and finding himself in prime positions to receive passes from slick-passing linemate Gustav Franzen. Mascherin played primarily second line minutes, but was often found camping out just to the right side of the net on the powerplay, ready to bang home rebounds.
ZONE ENTRIES AND EXITS
I will refer to this section as the “Michael McLeod Show”. He leads all players in entries per game, and crushed the rest of the field in controlled zone entries. He also lead all tracked forwards in zone exits, and all players in controlled zone exits. McLeod often takes the puck from the defensive zone, circling around once before exploding through the neutral zone, blowing past defenders and into the offensive zone. At times, you could feel the crowd and assembled scouts holding their breath as he curled in behind the net, knowing what was coming. At the junior level, this elite acceleration and explosiveness is unbelievable, but McLeod will face a harsh transition when he hits the pros, as the better competition will adapt quickly to this and force him to look for new ways to utilize his speed game. This was on display in the IIHF U18 World Championships, where McLeod used his speed throughout the offensive zone, but was unable to get any of his trademark blazing end to end rushes going.
The chart gives a nice illustration as to McLeod’s zone entry dominance. He had more controlled entries per game than all but one other tracked player had in total entries per game.
It speaks to the strength of Mississauga’s top line that McLeod’s linemate Alexander Nylander also created over five entries per game. He wasn’t nearly as effective in his shot generation off of entries, but often sucked in defenders to his side to try and open up space for his linemates to operate. Nylander was guilty of holding on to the puck for too long, or occasionally forcing a pass to a teammate rather than taking a shot.
Oshawa’s Domenic Commisso was the only forward who challenged McLeod in total entries per game, but he was not nearly as successful, often rushing the puck into traffic and causing turnovers, or entering the zone with control only to lose a one on one battle.
On the back end, Logan Stanley showed some skill at getting the puck out of the zone, especially with control. While he was able to effectively exit the zone via a carry-out on a few occasions, his problem was what he did once he reached the neutral zone. More often than not, Stanley would immediately give up possession on a dump into the offensive zone, or a failed pass to a linemate. He shows more poise with the puck than I’d expected to see coming into the season, but still doesn’t have much in the way of offensive instincts. The times he did carry the puck into the offensive zone, he would gain the blueline and either fire a wrister towards the net, or dump the puck around the net.
Olli Juolevi was strong for London all season, poised and calm. A few times, though, he rushed breakouts, which resulted in turnovers or icings. His offensive game is more of a transition game than one where he will control play or quarterback a powerplay, but my viewings were not very kind towards the consistency of his breakout passes.
Sudbury's Dmitry Sokolov was a guy who really did not fare well at any of the data I tracked, and illustrates how the small sample size can skew the numbers. Sokolov was last in Corsi For%, was not strong on zone entries, and was the worst at exiting his zone. That said, he was playing in the middle six of an awful team, as a rookie, new to the country and style of play, with one of the youngest players in the league as his C, and he was also playing with a bad shoulder injury all season. Despite all of that, he put up 30 goals to lead all OHL rookies, so his season wasn’t nearly as bad as this limited data would indicate. In fact, I identified Sokolov as a potential late round steal.
DEFENDING ZONE ENTRIES
For the defensemen, I tracked how many times they were forced to defend an opposition entry attempt. Stanley was picked on often, as teams tried to force him to transition and pivot in the defensive zone and exploit him. Stanley is relatively mobile, especially for a 6’7” blueliner, but still fell victim to speedier forwards who managed to gain the zone and create some possession time and chances. He was reasonably effective at breaking up entries or forcing dump-ins when he could close gaps, but he’s going to often be a target just based on his size alone.
Jakob Chychrun was very good at breaking up opposition entries using strong gap control. He often forced opposition attackers to the outside, angling them away from the centre of the ice and towards the corner. I also saw him abruptly stop and nail an oncoming attacker with a big hit, which floored the opponent. While Chychrun’s offensive consistency and growth has often been questioned, his defending of the zone from oncoming rushes has been a noted strength.
Towards the end of the season, Juolevi spent a lot of time with veteran defensive blueliner Jacob Graves, and Graves was usually the player picked on by the opposition. Juolevi showed why, as he was very effective at breaking up oncoming rushes. He often used strong pokechecks at the blueline to knock pucks away, or force players to go wide.
(image courtesy of Aaron Bell and CHL Images)
Mississauga’s Michael McLeod was my favourite player to watch all season. His end-to-end rushes were exhilarating, and his speed game was a joy to watch. He needs work on his shot, and sometimes he is guilty of getting a bit too creative, but it all comes back to that skating; it’s going to carry him a long way, even if the top-six offensive game doesn’t materialise.
Logan Brown is one player I have always disagreed with the scouts on. His size is tremendous, and he has the potential to be a game changer, but too often I found myself wondering when he was going to kick into gear. He spent far too much time on the periphery of plays, and for a guy his size, he was often muscled off of pucks in board battles. His talent is undeniable, but he’s got a lot of things to put together before he should be considered a total package.
Oshawa’s Riley Stillman was one of the more improved players I saw all season. He showed some ability to break out of his own zone when I saw him early on in the year, but by the end of it, had become the top defender on the Generals, and looked like a different player. He didn’t show a particular flair in any category, but was a very solid all-around performer at both ends of the ice.
Erie’s Alex DeBrincat actually wowed me more during his rookie season than he did in 2015/16, but his stats don’t lie: he is a dynamite offensive talent, right up there with the top players ranked.
Adam Mascherin was feast-or-famine: in games where he was “on”, you’d see him put up crooked numbers on the scoresheet. But other games, when he wasn’t able to effectively hit the scoring areas, it was difficult to pick him out of the crowd.
Matthew Tkachuk’s down-low play is awesome. He controls the board exceptionally well and uses his excellent reach to his advantage often. I’ve heard him referred to by someone in the know as “the worst defensive player on London and one of the worst in the league”, because of his penchant for cherry-picking and his lackluster skating making his backchecking almost non-existent. But there was no doubt that he dominated at the OHL level all season and did not look out of place on the top offensive line in the Canadian Hockey League.
Many of these prospects will hear their names called by NHL teams at some point during the 2016 NHL Draft weekend. Hopefully the data provided will help provide a bit of a more informed glimpse into the players and their strengths and weaknesses.