Tracking the OHL’s Draft Eligibles: 2015/16 Season Data

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:17 am by Jeremy Crowe

Tkachuk_AB40817

(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?

INTRODUCTION 

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:

Prospect Other Tracked F

Prospect Other Tracked D

CORSI AND SCORING

Prospect Stats 1

(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

Prospect Stats 2

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.

Prospect Zone Entries

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.

Prospect Zone Exits

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

Prospect Dman Entries Against

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.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

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(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.