Boasting nine NHL prospects including the likes of Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and Taylor Raddysh, it's no surprise that the Erie Otters are among the class of the OHL. The Erie Otters have been dominant all season and this past month has been no different. The play of forward Alex DeBrincat and goaltender Joseph Murdaca were rewarded with OHL Player of the Week honours in weeks one and thre, respectively, in February.
Alex DeBrincat – Chicago Blackhawks
After a disappointing ruling that left Alex DeBrincat off USA's U20 WJC roster, the Chicago Blackhawks prospect set out to show why team officials made a mistake. In his 26 games following his return, he's scored 25 goals and 53 points – only being held scoreless twice during that time frame. While Team USA won gold, one would wonder if DeBrincat's speed, skill and pure scoring ability would have made that trip that much easier.
This was the third time DeBrincat made OHL Player of the Week. This week, he became the Otters' all-time leader for career goals and topped off his third consecutive season scoring 50 or more goals (and 100 or more points). He's proven he can score without McDavid and he's proven he can score without Strome. Standing at 5'7 and 170lbs, size has always been a concern with scouts. But the NHL has become more and more of a younger and smaller player's league than ever before. In order to hit him, you have to catch him first and with his hockey sense and being aware of his surroundings – that's not an easy thing to do. DeBrincat has all the other tools to make him an elite prospect for the Blackhawks.
Joseph Murdaca – Undrafted '98
The second Erie Otters player selected as OHL Player of the Week is the undrafted goaltender, Joseph Murdaca. Murdaca has less than 30 career OHL games but came up to the task when starting goaltender Troy Timpano came down with an illness. Murdaca won 10 of 11 consecutive starts while filling in for Timpano. In week three, he posted a 3-0-0-0 record that included a shutout. In those three games he turned aside 54 of 56 shots he faced earning him a SV% of .964 and GAA of 0.670. Murdaca does not have many games under his belt and this is a small sample size. I haven't seen Murdaca play much, but he has that size (6'3, 186lbs) that NHL teams love. He has a good skill set that he can build on as he gets relied on more. At best, keep an eye on Murdaca to become a late bloomer.
While the East is a much weaker conference as a whole, the Mississauga Steelheads have become one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference. They really turned things around since before the holiday break when they were flirting with the chances of missing the playoffs. Mississauga currently sits 2nd in the East winning 16 of their last 25 games. With NHL prospects like Michael McLeod, Spencer Watson, Nathan Bastian and Vili Saarijarvi – the Steelheads were expected to be the top two of the Eastern Conference. Some of the turnaround success could be the acquisition of LA Kings prospect, Spencer Watson. Two Steelheads players joined the two Otters players for OHL Player of the Week, Spencer Watson was one of them.
Spencer Watson – LA Kings
Watson missed a lot of the season from wrist surgery but since his return he's scored 23 goals and 38 points in 32 games. Watson earned week two honours for OHL Player of the Week after recording three goals and seven points in three games. It appears that Watson's wrist is fully healed as his wrist shot continue to be one of his most lethal weapons. His shot is already at an NHL level in terms of release, speed and accuracy. While Watson may not be on the same pace as his last season in Kingston, his elusive skating combined with his hockey sense and NHL ready shot makes him an exciting prospect. Watson will need to bulk up a little to add some more strength and will likely need a couple seasons in the AHL before jumping into a role with the LA Kings. Watson will be given every chance to start the first 10 games in the NHL, but will most likely be in the AHL come this time next year.
Michael McLeod – New Jersey Devils
The second and most recent player to be named OHL Player of the Week is none other than New Jersey Devils prospect Michael McLeod. McLeod recorded five goals and 11 points in three games adding a plus-minus rating of plus -8. With 61 points in 48 games, McLeod has reached his prior best performance in 11 games less than his previous season. He isn't the most dynamic player but is a very good two-way pivot with great size and exceptional skating. His faceoffs continue to be a strong point finishing at a 58.0% success rate last year and currently a 59.9% success rate this year – often taking faceoffs in key zones and against other teams' best. The jury is out on how much offensive upside McLeod could bring to the NHL, but all his other skills including his compete level gives him a great chance of making the NHL in at least a bottom six forward capacity.