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McKeen’s Choice Awards: OHL

Brock Otten’s OHL Choice Awards

The 2019 NHL Draft is under a month away. What better way to dissect the players available from the OHL than to compare them through a “best of” article. Here are my selections for the top-rated players across several categories.

Connor McMichael of the London Knights. Photo by Luke Durda/OHL Images
Connor McMichael of the London Knights. Photo by Luke Durda/OHL Images
Best Hockey Sense - Connor McMichael, London Knights

McMichael is the type of player who succeeds because of his high IQ in the offensive end. He is consistently one step ahead of the competition and is equally as effective without the puck as he is with it. This higher order processing is put to use in all three zones too.

Also Considered: Arthur Kaliyev, Ryan Suzuki, Nick Robertson, Cole Mackay
Most Skilled - Nicholas Robertson, Peterborough Petes

Robertson, despite being less physically mature than some of his fellow draft eligible players, is so difficult to stop in the offensive zone because of the things that he can do with the puck. He drives offensive possession, operating just as well in transition as he does when the game slows down.

Also Considered: Graeme Clarke, Ryan Suzuki, Thomas Harley, Arthur Kaliyev
Hardest to Play Against - Jamieson Rees, Sarnia Sting

Rees’ energy level and tenaciousness knows no bounds. He is constantly looking to use his speed to disrupt the play and can be characterized as a “puck hound.” This was perfectly on display at this year’s U18’s, where he was Canada’s spark plug and a top penalty killer.

Also Considered: Vladislav Kolyachonok, Ethan Keppen, Michael Vukojevic, Keegan Stevenson, Keean Washkurak
Best Playmaker - Ryan Suzuki, Barrie Colts

Suzuki is the type of center who seems to have eyes in the back of his head. His vision on the ice and ability to thread passes through traffic is unrivaled among OHL players in this draft class. With the extra room to operate on the powerplay, he can be especially dangerous.

Also Considered: Thomas Harley, Nick Robertson, Philip Tomasino
Thomas Harley of the Mississauga Steelheads. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Thomas Harley of the Mississauga Steelheads. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Best Skater - Thomas Harley, Mississauga Steelheads

There are some terrific skaters available from the OHL this year, but Harley is the best of the bunch. He generates such power with long explosive strides and as such is able to carve up the neutral zone with relative ease. In my viewings of Harley this year, he seemed to average at least one end to end rush per game.

Also Considered: Jamieson Rees, Philip Tomasino, Billy Constantinou, Connor McMichael, Keean Washkurak, Vladislav Kolyachonok
Best Shot - Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton Bulldogs

In this year’s OHL coaches’ poll, not only was Kaliyev voted as having the best shot in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, he was voted as having the hardest shot too. He has a variety of weapons in his arsenal. From a quick, but accurate wrist shot, which he uses in transition. To a booming slap shot (that can be effectively one timed), which he utilizes while running the point or half wall on the powerplay. His 50 goals this year were no fluke.

Also Considered: Graeme Clarke, Nick Robertson, Connor McMichael
Best Stickhandler - Nick Robertson, Peterborough Petes

Robertson is such a slick and creative playmaker because of his skill level. His ability to change pace and direction with the puck, makes him incredibly elusive in the offensive end and gives him the ability to make defenders look very, very bad. He dictates tempo as well as any forward in this draft.

Also Considered: Graeme Clarke, Ryan Suzuki, Jamieson Rees, Philip Tomasino

Best Body Checker - Navrin Mutter, Hamilton Bulldogs

Mutter is a human torpedo on the ice; a real throwback player to an era that put more value on physical intimidation. His physicality can be reckless at times, but his hits can do damage for the positive, especially when it comes to forcing turnovers and creating space in the offensive end.

Also Considered: Nikita Okhotyuk, Jamieson Rees, Ethan Keppen, Mike Vukojevic
Jamieson Rees of the Sarnia Sting. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Jamieson Rees of the Sarnia Sting. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Best Defensive Forward - Jamieson Rees, Sarnia Sting

Strong two-way awareness and effort is not always something that is present in draft eligible forwards. And it can almost always be improved upon. But Jamieson Rees has to be considered the most well-rounded prospect available from the OHL this year. He is good at using his speed to break up plays on the backcheck and will use his physicality to separate his man from the puck in all three zones. These characteristics also make him a terrific penalty killer.

Also Considered: Connor McMichael, Cole Schwindt, Cole Mackay, Petr Cajka
Best Defensive Defender - Nikita Okhotyuk, Ottawa 67’s

The OHL is absolutely loaded with talented defensive stalwarts on the back-end this year, with all six of the players I have listed for this category looking like NHL draft selections. But Okhotyuk should be considered the best one because of his blend of size, physicality, and mobility. He was leaned on heavily by the first place Ottawa 67’s to protect leads late in games, match up against opposing top lines and to kill penalties.

Also Considered: Mike Vukojevic, Jacob LeGuerrier, Vladislav Kolyachonok, Liam Ross, Mitchell Brewer
Best Offensive Defender - Thomas Harley, Mississauga Steelheads

There is a reason why Harley is considered a possible top 20 selection at this year’s draft. His blend of size, mobility, puck skill, and vision have teams envisioning him as a future powerplay QB and point producer at the next level. He is ultra-aggressive in his attacks already, constantly looking to push the pace and drive the play with his speed and skill. As he continues to gain strength and confidence, how high can his game climb? Many compare Harley to current Ottawa Senator Thomas Chabot.

Also Considered: Billy Constantinou, Vladislav Kolyachonok, Jack York
Fastest Skater - Connor McMichael, London Knights

This one is tight between a few different players, but McMichael’s speed is key to his effectiveness as a contributor in all three zones. Sometimes he does not play the game as quick as he should, but that does not mean that his speed is not impressive. When he turns on the jets, few players in this league can catch him. He finished first in the forward skate sprint at the CHL Top Prospect’s Game testing this year.

Also Considered: Jamieson Rees, Philip Tomasino, Vladislav Kolyachonok, Keean Washkurak
Top Goalie - Hunter Jones, Peterborough Petes

At mid-season, Jones was looking like someone who could challenge Spencer Knight for the top goalie available in North America. But his second half performance was not strong, and his ranking has slipped accordingly. That said, his combination of size and athleticism are going to be very attractive to NHL scouts. Consistency is often the last thing top notch goaltending prospects figure out.

Also Considered: Jet Greaves, Mack Guzda