We're almost there, the OHL Championship is right around the corner as the Mississauga Steelheads get ready to face the Erie Otters. Arguably the two best teams in each conference vying for a chance at the J Ross Robertson Cup.
We've seen some impressive performances this post-season and none of them should come to a big surprise except maybe for the dominant play of two prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft including Jason Robertson, who's post-season was cut short when the Peterborough Petes eliminated his Kingston Frontenacs in the second round. Robertson was finally being noticed as a bonafide first round prospect and didn't disappoint in the post-season finishing with 5 goals, 19 points in just 11 games. In fact, at the end of two rounds, he was tied for the OHL playoff scoring title.
Nick Suzuki is the other draft prospect that really emerged as a game breaker in the playoffs. His Owen Sound Attack were just eliminated by the Erie Otters in the recent Western Conference finals. Suzuki who is expected to be the third highest selection of OHL players in the draft, finished with 8 goals and 23 points in 17 games. Both these prospects put up impressive performance against more veteran competition.
Steven Lorentz (Carolina Hurricanes) has come a long way since his rookie season and was one of the Peterborough Petes' best players throughout the regular season and playoffs. Over the last two seasons, he's worked hard on his defensive game and his decision making. He reads plays much better and it's been showing in both his offensive and defensive game. He recently earned a three-year entry level deal ahead of the June 1st deadline. Lorentz has bulked up and become bigger and stronger but still has a long way to go before he can battle for a spot in the NHL. Expect him to stick around in the minors for at least a couple years.
Still fighting for a berth in the Memorial Cup:
Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks) has surpassed his previous playoff performances and currently leads the OHL in playoff scoring. He consistently puts up big numbers in the postseason and regular season including three consecutive 50-goal and 100-point regular seasons. But for some reason, DeBrincat still gets questions thrown at him. While he has great linemate, both his scoring ability and playmaking make him a double threat. His size will always be a question until he faces bigger and stronger players on a regular basis, but for now, it still hasn't slowed him down. Expect to see him get a shot with the Blackhawks, but expect to see him in the AHL for the majority of next season.
Taylor Raddysh (Tampa Bay Lightning) has the potential to become a very good power forward. He's big enough and strong enough to win puck battles and knock opponents off the puck but also has a strong offensive upside. He continues to put up the points with Erie, but there's still something that makes me not as confident that his scoring will transition into the AHL or NHL. He's definitely been a great complimentary player but doesn't always control the pace of the play. He was still producing without Strome, but improved with him. In the playoffs he's been using his shot a lot averaging 4.00 per game. His quick release can be deadly combined with his hockey smarts. He'll be back in the OHL next season to hone in on his skills and prove to his doubters (including me) that he can make players around him better.
Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes) is in the midst of a long playoff run which can only help him gain confidence after being sent down from Arizona (not to say that his confidence was suffering this season). Skating still a bit of a concern, but that hasn't stopped his production in the OHL. Like I've mentioned in previous articles, his vision, smarts and skill with/without the puck is enough to get him another shot to start the 2017-18 season with the big club. Skating can always be improved and worked on, but hockey smarts do not come as easy.
Anthony Cirelli (Tampa Bay Lightning) has continued to produce since being traded to the Erie Otters, in fact be became better than a point-a-player since the transition. His great play has continued into the postseason as his team gears up for the OHL Championship series. Where have we seen this before? After winning the Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals in 2015, Cirelli was a highly coveted player at the trade deadline. Cirelli continues to win key faceoffs and score at in opportune times. His two-way play is among the best in the OHL.
Michael McLeod (New Jersey Devils) has been Mississauga's best player from the start of the post-season and currently their leading scorer. His ability to fly past his opponents using his speed and ability to defend the puck in the defensive zone has shown this season. He still winning faceoffs in key situations against strong opponents. Sometimes he doesn't make the best decisions off the rush and needs to let his hands catch up with his feet. That being said, McLeod is almost unstoppable when crosses the blueline at top speed. McLeod should start in the NHL next season but I predict he'll get assigned back to the OHL. If he is, he'll be a key piece during the 2018 OHL Trade Deadline.
Spencer Watson (LA Kings) got off to a pretty slow start in the playoffs but really turned his production back in gear as he gained more steam late in the first round. Watson is one of the best goal scorers left in the playoffs, and in fact, leads the OHL with the most goals with nearly a goal a game (14G in 15GP). His ability to beat a goaltender in close on a deke or with a skiller release, he very dangerous around the crease. No doubt Watson would have been in the AHL this season, but his injury kept him back. He'll get a shot with LA and if he doesn't make it there, he'll never let his foot off the gas and breakout in the AHL.