Anaheim DucksArizona CoyotesBoston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesCarolina HurricanesChicago BlackhawksColorado AvalancheColumbus Blue JacketsDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersLos Angeles KingsMinnesota WildMontréal CanadiensNashville PredatorsNew Jersey DevilsNew York IslandersNew York RangersOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsSt Louis BluesSan Jose SharksSeattle KrakenTampa Bay LightningToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksVegas Golden KnightsWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets

OHL Prospects in the AHL: Part One – Philip Tomasino (Nashville), Ryan Suzuki (Carolina), Jamieson Rees (Carolina) and Jean-Luc Foudy (Colorado)

In a normal season, players from the CHL under the age of 20 (save for the odd player granted exceptional status like Joe Veleno) would not be eligible to play in the AHL due to the agreement with the Canadian Hockey League. However, 2021 has been anything but normal. While many draft eligible players from Ontario have gone overseas to play and advance their development, OHL players that were already drafted into the NHL have been granted the opportunity to play in the AHL while they await the start-up of the Ontario Hockey League. 28 players who would have otherwise been sent back to the OHL, have started their pro careers early. For many, the results have been terrific and this experience has done wonders for their development.

As part of a seven part series, I will be evaluating the performances of each of those 28 players.

Philip Tomasino - Chicago Wolves

Right Wing/Center, 6’0, 187lbs

OHL Rights: Oshawa Generals

NHL Rights: Nashville Predators

Statistics: 8gp, 4g, 5a, 9p, 2pim, +10

When we last left him:

Splitting the 2019/20 season between Niagara and Oshawa, Tomasino was one of only four OHL’ers to hit the 100 point mark in a breakout season. Taking on responsibility in all situations, Tomasino emerged as one of the OHL’s best and most complete players. His pace of play is tremendous and it makes him so dangerous in transition. By improving his engagement level without the puck (competing harder along the wall, on the backcheck, and playing through traffic), Tomasino was able to improve his consistency as an offensive player and emerge as a go to facilitator. The next steps outlined for Tomasino included improving his strength on the puck to help him cut down on some of those offensive zone turnovers that do occasionally plague his game as he tries to drive play through the middle and attack.

2021 McKeen’s Yearbook Grades: Skating: 60, Shot: 55, Skills: 60, Smarts: 55, Physicality: 50

Assessing his AHL play:

Fresh off a terrific performance for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, Tomasino stepped right into Chicago’s lineup and became an immediate impact player. Averaging a point per game, Tomasino has been a fixture in the Wolves’ top six and on their powerplay, helping them (along with fellow teenagers Seth Jarvis, Jamieson Rees, and Ryan Suzuki) to be the AHL’s best and highest scoring team thus far. He has seen significant time on a line with Jarvis, but with Jarvis returning to the WHL, look for Chicago to continue to explore his chemistry with AHL veteran Sheldon Rempal and fellow top Nashville prospect Rem Pitlick.

As the production suggests, Tomasino has had little trouble adjusting to the AHL. All of his strengths as a player continue to shine through; a terrific sign for Nashville as it pertains to the translation of his game to the pro level. Playing primarily on the right wing, Tomasino has looked electric in transition, using his speed and creativity to push the pace, in turn creating scoring chances for he and his linemates. His hands are so good in tight spaces, and even in the face of quicker and stronger defenders, he is coming out on top when heavily pressured. Additionally, Tomasino has stood out for his two-way play, applying pressure on the backcheck and providing support in the defensive zone and neutral zone. Because of his quickness, he is then able to quickly turn the tide for the Wolves and turn defense into offense. His attention to detail and effort in all three zones will help him move quickly through the Nashville system.

The only negative would be that Tomasino still needs to add strength to be consistent from shift to shift. He’s generating scoring chances in transition, but less so when defenders control the pace and force him to slow the game down. Unsurprisingly, his attacks through the middle are not finding as much success at the pro level, as defenders angle him to the wall towards a help defender and this is leading to occasional turnovers. Additionally, he is not as successful at maintaining possession through contact along the wall, which is causing some plays to die on his stick through the cycle. Continuing to add strength and learning to make quicker decisions/assessments will help him take his game to the next level. At this point, Tomasino does look ready for an NHL role starting next season.

Game Tape:

*Tomasino wears #50 for the Chicago Wolves

This is a great example of the type of positive impact that Tomasino can have in all three zones. He recognizes that his defender is caught in on the pinch, so he cycles back to cover and regains possession. Then he is back up ice leading the attack the other way, where he gains the zone and gets a shot on net.

Here we see Tomasino’s speed at play. He senses a gap in coverage and takes off once he is confident his defenders have gained possession. After a terrific stretch pass (from Jeremy Davies), Tomasino gains a partial breakaway. While he does not score, he does draw a penalty. Ironically, the defender that he beat was former OHL’er Alec Regula, who is also in his first year in the AHL.

The highlight of this play is the terrific move that Tomasino makes at his own blueline while picking up speed to maintain possession and kickstart the two on one. Again, his hands are just so smooth. Veteran AHL defender (and former OHL’er) Brian Lashoff makes a terrific defensive play to break-up the play, but again we see a terrific example of the types of opportunities that Tomasino can create in transition. Looking at the execution of the two on one, Tomasino likely wishes that he had either dished off earlier, or kept going at full speed to try to gain separation.

One of Tomasino’s four OHL goals on the season, we see him operate this two on one much more effectively. This is something that Niagara IceDog and Oshawa General fans are all too familiar with; Tomasino’s ability to back down defenders, cut towards the middle before ripping one past the opposing goaltender. His tricks of the trade are working just as they did in the OHL.

AHL Performance Grade: A

Continuing in the OHL:

Given his success at the AHL level, the expectation for Tomasino would be that he would return to the OHL and be a leading candidate for the Red Tilson Trophy, awarded to the league’s top player. It is very likely that we see him over two points per game with the Generals, who will be surrounding him with other top talents like Ty Tullio and 2021 draft prospect Brett Harrison. Of course, given the Predators struggles thus far and the strong likelihood that they deal some players off before the NHL trade deadline, there is a chance that they call Tomasino up to give the team a shot in the arm. However, burning a year off of his ELC may not be the best course of action in a lost season for them. Allowing him to return to the OHL, where he can dominate is the best course of action.

Ryan Suzuki - Chicago Wolves

Center, 6’0, 175lbs

OHL Rights: Saginaw Spirit

NHL Rights: Carolina Hurricanes

Statistics: 10gp, 3g, 3a, 6p, 0pim, +3

When we last left him:

The move to Saginaw mid way through last OHL season really did wonders for Suzuki’s confidence and development. Playing under the great Chris Lazary, Suzuki became much more consistently engaged in all facets of the game. Often playing alongside Cole Perfetti, Suzuki became a more willing combatant in high traffic areas and showed a willingness to compete for space. By increasing his compete level, we saw him blossom into a more consistent point producer and facilitator. Suzuki’s effort and involvement from a defensive standpoint also improved, allowing him to become a competent two-way player (something helped him earn a spot on Team Canada at the recent World Junior Championships). An immensely talented playmaker, the next step for Suzuki is being more assertive and direct with the puck. He needs to gain greater confidence in his ability to shoot the puck, in addition to continuing to build off the improvements made to his overall game and tenacity last year.

2021 McKeen’s Yearbook Grades: Skating: 55, Shot: 50, Skills: 60, Smarts: 55, Physicality: 45

Assessing his AHL play:

Like Phil Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki has seen a fair amount of time on the powerplay with the Wolves thus far. However, at even strength, he has been playing less, centering either the third or fourth line. While he has played with top prospect Seth Jarvis and Dominik Bokk, fellow rookie Cole Smith (out of the University of North Dakota) has been a more common linemmate. Additionally, like Tomasino, Suzuki came to Chicago after the conclusion of the World Junior Championships, where he helped Canada earn a silver medal.

All of Suzuki’s five points this year are primary points, so he is certainly having a positive influence on the ice. The mark of a true playmaker is that they can elevate the play of their linemates regardless of who they are playing with; they can create chemistry with anyone. As mentioned, Suzuki has played with a lot of different players so far this season and he is finding ways to facilitate and create scoring chances for all of them. His vision with the puck is just terrific and he is showing the confidence to slow the game down, allowing those passing lanes to open up for him, even if it means taking a hit to make a play.

We are also seeing Suzuki battle hard for space and for pucks, something that he greatly improved upon last year. He may not be winning all his battles, but the effort level is there. Additionally, Suzuki is doing well at the faceoff circle for a teenager in the AHL, winning close to 50 percent of his draws (a few really bad games at the dot are bringing down the total average). While one of the clips shown below does highlight a negative defensive play by Suzuki, his effort level on the backcheck generally seems to be good. It is simply about getting stronger and quicker to be more effective in this regard. Also, you would like to see Suzuki shoot the puck a little more (being under a shot per game), but he’s a pass first playmaker. Developing more confidence in his ability to shoot is an identifiable area of growth. Overall, the improvements that Suzuki had shown late last season in the OHL have definitely carried over the pro level.

Game Tape:

*Suzuki wears #6 for the Chicago Wolves

While Suzuki may not be known most for these types of plays, he shows to be a willing combatant near the crease to score the greasy ones. If you want to be an NHL player, you need to find ways to win battles near the crease and Suzuki has really improved this aspect of his game over the last year. Here he wins the joust with veteran pro defender Josh Atkinson and scores.

This is the aforementioned negative defensive play. Suzuki is not able to recover a dump in and establish possession. Then he gets himself caught up ice. While he initially hustles to get back, he proceeds to coast into his own end and fails to tie up a Rockford player in the slot. Chalk this up to a learning moment about how quickly plays can break down at the pro level. That backcheck simply needs to be more determined.

Suzuki’s bread and butter is his playmaking ability. He makes a terrific pass from below the goal line to find Cavan Fitzgerald jumping up into the slot for the goal. When Suzuki is given time and space to survey the ice, he usually is able to set up a high quality scoring chance.

As mentioned, Suzuki has this ability to control the pace of play and really slow the game down. He enters the zone, puts on the breaks, and makes an unbelievable feed to a trailer in the slot who loses control before he can get a shot on net.

AHL Performance Grade: A-

Continuing in the OHL:

Saginaw would likely be one of the better teams in the OHL this year as Suzuki would likely continue to see ice time alongside Perfetti. The two of them would likely be extremely lethal on the powerplay and production near the two point per game mark would certainly be possible (after nearing that level late last season). Suzuki would also have a chance to wear a letter for the Spirit. Obviously, the expectation for Suzuki would be that he evolves into one of the top two-way centers in the OHL, similar to the way his brother Nick finished off his OHL career.

Jamieson Rees - Chicago Wolves

Center, 5’11, 172lbs

OHL Rights: Sarnia Sting

NHL Rights: Carolina Hurricanes

Statistics: 9gp, 3g, 2a, 5p, 10pim, +3

When we last left him:

Playing for a poor Sarnia Sting team, Rees was still one of the best offensive players in the OHL last year. He wore a letter for the Sting and his 1.56 points per game was just outside the Top 10 for the league. We saw his confidence as a puck handler and play creator grow substantially. However, as a highly competitive player, playing for such an inconsistent team really seemed to frustrate him and it manifested itself into some bad habits. Rees is a player who has to play on the line to be effective, but crossing it frequently hurt him and the Sting in 2019/20. Suspensions and undisciplined play were an issue. Additionally, Rees suffered from trying to do too much at times and offensive zone turnovers became a problem. Heading into this year, the hope was that Rees could figure out how to play aggressively, but not accrue penalties. The hope was also that Rees could learn to utilize his linemates more effectively and make better judgments with the puck on his stick.

2021 McKeen’s Yearbook Grades: Skating: 55, Shot: 55, Skills: 55, Smarts: 50, Physicality: 60

Assessing his AHL play:

Given Chicago’s depth at center and his inexperience, Rees has been lining up at left wing for the Wolves thus far. AHL goal scoring leader (as of writing this) Rem Pitlick has been a common linemate for him. Like some of the other teenagers in Chicago’s lineup, he has been seeing regular time on the powerplay. However, unlike a few of the others, he has also been seeing fairly regular shifts on the penalty kill. The coaching staff obviously feels that his speed and tenacity is a good fit for their PK unit.

Speaking of his speed and tenacity, it has transitioned seamlessly to the pro level, allowing him to make an impact in all three zones. He is leading the charge in transition and is having a lot of success with his zone entries, driving wide before cutting into the middle, just as he did at the OHL level. He is creating scoring chances with his ability to protect the puck while playing with pace and has really earned the trust of the coaching staff already with his high energy level. His effort without the puck is also impressive. Basically, we are seeing the same type of offensive player at the AHL level as we did at the OHL level.

The one key difference is that Rees has not adapted his physical play to the AHL level as of yet, at least not consistently. He is involving himself in scrums and driving the net, but his competitiveness as a forechecker and overall penchant for the big hit has not yet shown itself with the Wolves. As he gets stronger and builds confidence, this is likely to be an area of his game that translates well, even if it has not at this point.

For the most part (save a clip shown) Rees has played disciplined hockey and is focusing his attention on pushing the pace and trying to create for his linemates. While turnovers have occurred, they have mostly been from him trying to be aggressive by attacking defenders with the puck. He has won some of those battles and lost some. So long as he is picking his spots, the occasional turnover is to be expected given his aggressiveness. The key is that he is hustling on the backcheck after these turnovers and is constantly hungry to earn the puck back for his team.

Game Tape:

*Rees wears #26 for the Chicago Wolves

Here we have two clips of Rees setting up goals with his ability to use his speed and quickness, both North/South and East/West. First, he goes end to end, beating rookie Wyatt Kalynuk to the middle, before setting up a nice goal. Then he turns Chad Krys into a human pylon, taking him out wide before exploding past him to set up another goal. Rees is just so good on his edges and his lateral quickness, in combination with his straight away speed, makes him so difficult to contain in open ice. Additionally, Rees is so adept at taking away a defenders reach and ability to poke check by getting in tight to their hands and putting them on his back.

In this clip, Rees scores a beauty. Tommy Novak drives the net and generates a rebound out into the slot. Driving the middle, Rees corrals the rebound and makes a great move to beat the Griffins’ netminder. Again, these are the types of plays that OHL fans are accustomed to seeing from Rees.

Here we see the good and the bad from Rees. First, he makes a poor blind pass into the slot (it was Rees despite the announcer claiming it was Novak), which allows for an odd man opportunity the other way. But he hustles (visibly harder than a few of his teammates) on the backcheck to lift the stick of Michael Rasmussen at the last second, likely saving a goal. Again, you will live with Rees committing the odd turnover, so long as he continues to use his speed and energy to regain possession.

These are the types of plays that got Rees in trouble a lot last year in the OHL. Defenders got good at goading him into taking retaliatory penalties, using his competitiveness against him. Here we see veteran defender Brian Lashoff do a great job of that, drawing a slashing penalty on Rees. To Rees’ credit, this is the only penalty of this nature that he has taken thus far in the AHL.

AHL Performance Grade: B+

Continuing in the OHL:

It is extremely likely that Rees would be named the captain of the Sarnia Sting, a role that could allow him to work on the adjustments needed to his game so that he could lead by example. The Sting would likely be a middle of the pack team, with Rees and Anaheim first rounder Jacob Perreault leading the charge. The expectation would be that Rees continues to improve as a consistent offensive contributor and would be among the league’s leading scorers. If the Sting were to falter, Rees would be a candidate to be moved to a contender in his final year in the OHL, giving him a chance at a deep playoff run for the first time in his OHL career.

Jean-Luc Foudy - Colorado Eagles

Center, 5’11, 175lbs

OHL Rights: Windsor Spitfires

NHL Rights: Colorado Avalanche

Statistics: 9gp, 0g, 4a, 4p, 4pim, +1

When we last left him:

Heading into the 2020 NHL Draft, Foudy was ranked anywhere from the mid second round to the beginning of the fourth round by scouting agencies. He was ultimately selected in the third by Colorado. Foudy’s game (much like his brother Liam) revolves around his speed and ability to push the pace of play. An electric skater, Foudy builds to top speed in the blink of an eye and as such, he is relied upon to lead zone entry. Foudy also possesses quick hands and shows potential as an elite playmaker because of how he can use his speed to draw in defenders before passing off. However, there are concerns about the other layers of Foudy’s game, with many questioning if he is too one dimensional. He is a playmaker to a fault at times, as teams have begun to take away passing lanes from him, instead forcing him to shoot. Additionally, teams push him to the perimeter and he struggles to find success driving the middle to open up those consistent opportunities for himself. The next steps for Foudy would be to improve the quality of his shot, or at least his confidence in utilizing it. Additionally, working to attack the middle of the ice, playing less North/South and more East/West, to make his attacks more unpredictable for defenders given his speed.

2021 McKeen’s Yearbook Grades: Skating: 65, Shot: 50, Skills: 60, Smarts: 50, Physicality: 45

Assessing his AHL play:

Thus far, the Colorado Eagles have been one of the lower scoring teams in the AHL, so do not let Foudy’s lower point totals fool you. He has been seeing top line ice time and first unit powerplay time for Colorado. He played one game at center, but has mostly been lining up at right wing, sometimes with Shane Bowers, sometimes with veteran Jayson Megna. On top of seeing top line ice time, he has also been excelling with it. In watching some of Colorado’s games, Foudy has unquestionably been one of the team’s best players.

Bottom line; his speed plays at any level. He is leading the charge over the blueline, both at even strength and on the powerplay. However, he is using his speed consistently as a forechecker and on the backcheck too, something that has been a work in progress in the OHL. Additionally, Foudy has been driving the middle of the ice and not just sticking to the perimeter on the wing. This is really opening up the ice for his linemates and he is drawing penalties because of it too. He looks much stronger on his skates and is showing an ability to fight through contact while maintaining possession, another thing that he struggled with at times last year.

Also impressive is Foudy looking to shoot the puck more often and being more deliberate with his decision making. Instead of skating circles around the offensive zone, he seems to be identifying both shooting and passing lanes more efficiently. When defenders are playing off him, he is cutting to the middle or driving wide looking to shoot. When defenders try to take away his space, he is dishing off, keeping his head up and finding the open man. The turnovers that plagued Foudy’s draft season in Windsor from his perimeter play and lack of decisiveness have not been an issue in the AHL thus far, which suggests very positive growth in his game.

Game Tape:

*Foudy wears #93 for the Colorado Eagles

The start of this clip certainly is not flattering for Foudy. He tries to hold the line and when pressured, attempts a blind back pass that is intercepted. This leads to a potential break for the Roadrunners. However, Foudy puts on the jets, hustles back to apply pressure and negates the scoring chance. Then he flips the script, fights off a check, goes end to end and helps to set up a goal for the Eagles. The turnover is not great. But the determination is something that has been lacking consistently in his game previously.

This is a terrific play by Foudy in the offensive end. He circles the offensive zone using his speed, then once he draws in two defenders, he finds Megna in the slot for the goal. At times in the past, Foudy may have continued to circle the zone, missing that open man in the slot.

Here we see Foudy using his speed without the puck to drive the middle of the ice, where he eventually draws a penalty, forcing Gulls defender Simon Benoit to hold him up. Again, if Foudy can do this consistently and be just as great of a factor with his speed when he does not have the puck, it will really help him to reach his full potential as an NHL player.

AHL Performance Grade: A-

Continuing in the OHL:

The Windsor Spitfires disappointed last season in the OHL and Foudy saw his stock really fall for the draft. However, given the strength of their young players, the likelihood would be that Windsor would be much improved this season and that Foudy would be among those leading that charge. Ideally, he would be working hard to establish other dimensions to his game to improve his consistency as an offensive contributor. Only in his third OHL season, becoming a point per game player and the go to offensive player on the Spitfires would be a realistic and attainable achievement. This is especially true considering how confident he looks in the AHL right now.