By Kathryn Jean
Every season the OHL conducts a poll among its coaches to recognized the top players in 20 skill categories. Coaches vote on their top three players from both the Eastern and Western Conferences. This poll was released a couple weeks ago and here are some of the biggest winners among NHL prospects.
Ryan Mantha (Edmonton Oilers)
- Most Improved Player – Tied for 1st in the East
- Best Shot – 2nd in East
- Best Defensive Defenceman – 1st in East
- Best Offensive Defenceman – 2nd in East
Last season Mantha was bogged down by his inconsistency skating and inadequate defensive play. Since returning to the Niagara IceDogs as the Captain, Mantha has been one of Niagara’s most important players all season. It’s like he’s come back with something to prove after not receiving a contract with the New York Rangers. He’s been a workhorse on the blueline and not getting beat like he used to. A lot of that could be due to the progress he’s made on his skating and agility. He’s using his size more effectively and using his powerful shot more (averaging almost 5 shots a game – highest in the OHL). Mantha is definitely still a couple years away, but his improvements is a good reason why the Edmonton Oilers signed him earlier this season.
Spencer Watson (Los Angeles Kings)
- Smartest Player – 1st in East
- Best Playmaker – 1st in East
- Best Shootout Shooter – 2nd in East
Watson would have been playing in the AHL this season if it weren’t for a wrist injury that kept him out for nearly half the season. It was clear in his first month that the surgery would not keep him back using that famous wrist shot he is known for – which is surprising that he didn’t place in that category. Watson is a very dynamic player and his shot is one of his biggest weapons. It’s not just his shot but the different types of ways he finds to score – whether it’s driving to the net, shooting from the point or finding his teammates. His elusive skating, instincts, and shot make him a very difficult player to contain. The knock on Watson will always be his size and if he can keep up with bigger and stronger players in the NHL. He’ll join the AHL next season and LA fans will get a better look to see how he stacks up.
Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes)
- Smartest Player – 1st in West (third year placing)
- Best Playmaker – 1st in West (second time placing)
Strome fits in the category where he’s too young for the AHL but too good for the OHL. He almost missed half the season exactly and still finished in the top 20 of OHL scoring (22G 53A in 35GP). While it certainly doesn’t hurt to be on one of the highest scoring teams in the league, there is no denying his talent. His vision is top in his class and his ability to play with and without the puck is something Erie Otters fans see on a daily basis. Like many young top ranked players lately, his skating is his only real concern and a big part of what kept him back from sticking in the NHL along with conditioning. His acceleration is not there yet but no doubt will putting in a lot of work this summer before he attends Coyotes camp in September. Expect Strome to be given every chance to make the big club next season, but can finally be sent to the AHL if they don’t feel he is ready.
Dmitry Sokolov (Minnesota Wild)
- Most Dangerous in Goal Area – 3rd in East
- Best Shot – 3rd in East
- Hardest Shot – 1st in East
I think it’s fair to say Sokolov goes under the radar a lot more than other prospects with his skill set. He put up decent numbers in his rookie season, but didn’t make the impact most thought he would. Playing on the worst team in the league with a lack of supporting cast, he went unranked among many of the top draft sites. This season in his sophomore year he has been more consistent, and is a big reason why his team made the post-season. Sokolov’s shot is a big strength of his which is reflected from the coaches poll. What’s so dangerous about his shot is that it heavy and accurate. His puck control and puck possession is something Minnesota scouts saw from him. He doesn’t play the most complete game but will backcheck when needed and has powerful strides to catch opponents. Extra work on conditioning will help him with his footwork which looks heavy at times and help progress his game into that of a power forward.
Adam Mascherin (Florida Panthers)
- Most Dangerous in Goal Area – 2nd in West
- Best Shot – 2nd in West (second time placing)
- Hardest Shot – 2nd in West (second time placing)
Mascherin was one of the most underrated players in his draft year and a lot of it was because of his small stature. While he carries a small frame, he is built similar to a guy like Travis Konecny with a very strong lower core and isn’t afraid go into a battle with bigger and stronger guys. Also similar to Konecny, he has a great speed and a fantastic skill set. He finds ways to make space for him on the ice and his speed helps him separate himself from the opposition. His shot is already at the NHL level and doesn’t panic. He’s very calm with the puck and makes good quick decisions. Mascherin is very much a shoot-first type of player, so finding a teammate who can dish him the puck is where he’ll be at his best. I wouldn’t expect a jump into the NHL right away, but he’s not far behind.
Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues)
- Best Skater – Tied for 2nd in West (second time placing)
- Best Stickhandler – 2nd in West
- Best Shootout Shooter – 1st in West
Kyrou has become one of Sarnia’s go to players this year with two years experience under his belt. He plays a complete game with strong skating and great offensive instincts. He added some strength to his somewhat undersized frame but would benefit on packing on a little bit of muscle – this will also help strengthen his shot. Last season scouts weren’t as impressed because they didn’t see a huge increase offensively between his rookie and sophomore season. Well, he went from 36 points in his rookie year to 51 points in his sophomore to a season-high of 94 points this year. Kyrou is great at reading the play and using his speed to break up plays and beat his opponents. Because of his all-around play, he’s been used on both the power play and penalty kill units. That being said, there’s a chance Kyrou will return for another season in the OHL.
Kyle Pettit (Free Agent, previously Vancouver Canucks)
- Best Penalty Killer – 2nd in West (second time placing)
- Best on Face-Offs – 1st in West (second time placing)
- Best Shot Blocker – 1st in West
Pettit came away with a ranking in four different categories this season but was unable to sign a contract with the Vancouver Canucks making him a free agent. Pettit has great size for the NHL and a fantastic work ethic, but has very small offensive ceiling. That being said, Pettit has worked hard at it this season and has more than double any of his previous point totals and has split his goals and assists almost down the middle (26G 28A in 66GP). Pettit is very meticulous is does the small things right. His drive to block shots at any cost helps him become an efficient penalty killer. His ability to win face-offs is a huge plus and the fact that he’s done it well year after year makes me think another NHL team may take a chance on him even if it’s just for AHL depth. He’s a very raw player but has some good intangibles that another long playoff run may help highlight.
There are so many other NHL prospects that I could go over but this list is deep. You can view the full list of OHL Coaches Poll winners here.
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