The steep rise of Christian Dvorak has to be music to the ears of the Arizona Coyotes.
Since being snapped up with the 58th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, the Illinois native has blossomed into an elite OHL force.
Dvorak had been pegged a likely third-rounder after suffering a serious knee injury (ACL) which limited him to 33 regular season games during the 2013-14 season. The London Knights were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs that year, but since they were hosting the Memorial Cup, it allowed Dvorak time to return to the ice and showcase his abilities. His play at the Memorial Cup impressed Arizona, who had a pair of second-round picks that summer - and could afford to roll the dice.
The wager is definitely paying off.
Dvorak has been filling the nets at a torrid pace ever since. He fired 41 goals and another 5 in 10 playoff games during a breakout post-draft campaign, and has continued to take his play to higher levels this season. Currently, he leads the OHL with 46 goals and sits second in the league scoring race with 107 points, five behind Kevin Lebanc of the Barrie Colts.
Backed by a sneaky and well-placed shot, Dvorak is adept at using defenders as screens and getting into open ice to get his shot away. Partnered with Mitchell Marner, an extremely heady passer and slick playmaker, the two form arguably the best 1-2 punch in the entire OHL. Dvorak oozes creativity and confidence with the puck; he rarely throws it away and can tear apart opposing defences - especially on the power play where he weaves in and out with the open ice he creates.
Not an elite burner in terms of skating speed, however his stride and his tempo are efficient and he is steadily getting more powerful thanks to adding some much-needed lower-body strength. He is now up to 195 pounds - 40 pounds heavier than he was when the Knights selected him 163rd overall in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection.
He is a tireless worker who is always alert and aware of his play without the puck. His positioning and focus to constantly be involved in a play without the puck adds to his dimension as a player and was a contributing factor behind the team's decision to name him co-captain this season.
Dvorak played for Team USA for the first time internationally at this year’s U20 World Junior Championship. Though he posted respectable numbers (7-3-5-8), his overall performance at the tournament was somewhat disappointing.
There's been nothing flat about his play since the WJC however, as he has contributed 18 goals - including six multiple-goal games - and 43 points in his past 23 games.
Here are notes and observations on some other prospects on the McKeen's watch list.
Logan Brown (2016), C, Windsor (OHL)
The son of former NHL defenceman and current GM/Coach of the Ottawa 67's, Jeff Brown. Got off to a hot start to his second OHL campaign with 23 points in his first 16 games (16-5-18-23), which was interrupted by a five-game league suspension (Oct) for an illegal hit. Sagged offensively through December and into mid-January (17-1-10-11) before getting back on track. Brown could stand to be more selfish in terms of exploiting an excellent snapshot, among his best weapons. Extremely skilled and possessing the type of size that NHL teams salivate over (6-6, 225), Brown can come across as being aloof and rarely puts forth the physical effort one might expect. He has done a much better job this season playing away from the puck, demonstrating good overall body position and leaning on opponents forcing them into bad areas on the ice. Skating continues to be problematic, yet it shows signs of improvement from this point last season. Brown has dimensional puck skills and is currently centering the two best players on the team in Christian Fischer and Brendan Lemieux which speaks volumes as to how the coaching staff values him as a player.
Tyler Parsons (2016), G, London (OHL)
Currently ranked 6th among North American goaltenders for the 2016 NHL Draft, Parsons became the eighth goalie to score a goal in the OHL and the first ever in league history to record a game-winning goal against Sudbury on October 9th. Not a flashy type yet extremely economical, he has been a dependable option for a talented Knights team this season. The Knights rarely give up more than an average of 30 shots a game and Parsons answers the bell making timely saves. The native of Chesterfield, Michigan sits second in the OHL with 31 wins and a 2.43 goals-against average - and third overall in save percentage (.918). A fiery competitor who battles hard in his crease playing an aggressive butterfly technique and displaying strong athleticism. Plays at the top of his crease helping to cut down a shooter's angles while also boasting strong rebound control. The Knights will go as far as he can take them. Posted two seven-game winning streaks this season - and is currently riding a five-game win streak. Born just three days after the cut-off for last year's draft.
Brendan Saigeon (2016), C, Hamilton (OHL)
Few players took as backwards a step in terms of development than Saigeon did this season. The Grimsby, Ontario native and Belleville's fourth-overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection scored his first goal on Halloween and found the back of the net just three more times before suffering an unfortunate injury. At the end of January, he suffered a broken arm which ill likely put an end to already disappointing campaign. Generally, he had been a non-factor on the score sheet despite being given ample opportunity to produce. Played on the third line as Hamilton are relatively strong up the middle, however Saigeon never pushed the veterans to be better. His skating continues to be an area of concern as it offers very little in terms of propulsion and explosiveness; he is bland with no get-up-and-go. At his most effective when he moves his feet and tries to get into strong shooting positions as he is a scorer by trade. However, he struggled to gain any confidence prior to being sidelined.
Matthew Tkachuk (2016), LW, London (OHL)
The son of former NHL superstar Keith Tkachuk, Matthew has been a model of consistency in his rookie season having produced at least a point in all but three games over the past four months. He recorded points in every game in February (10-7-16-23) and has the league's longest active points streak. Tkachuk currently sits second in the OHL with 70 assists - and fourth in overall scoring with 93 points. Few players in this draft class possess the inner drive to succeed that Tkachuk has - as he battles furiously in the offensive zone and is an absolute tyrant within seven feet of the goal. Virtually unstoppable as he is a hard player and fends off opponents with little to no effort in order to inch his way closer to the goal. Dangerous coming off the boards - yet an even bigger threat operating by the side of the goal as the majority of his points this year have been in the dirty areas of the ice. His skating is stagnant and looks awkward and will need to be upgraded at the pro level, however his touch, competitiveness, and ability to get under the opposition's skin are all attributes that will be too difficult to ignore as he has taken the league by storm - and should challenge for an OHL scoring crown next season.