Considering we at InTheORadio.com have been debating who the best teams and goaltenders in the league are as of late, I figured it was time to examine who the best draft eligible player in the OHL is. There was one condition: nobody could select Nail Yakupov as most, if not all of us, would select him which would make the Hot-Stove pretty plain. Joining me in this week's hot-stove is Thayne Hallyburton, Jason Ray, Brandon Sudeyko, Phil Phillips and Alex Quevillon.
Without further ado I'd like to introduce you all to this week's debate question: who is the best draft eligible player in the OHL (besides Nail Yakupov)?
My choice for this question will be another member of the Sarnia Sting (go figure). I'm going to go with Alex Galchenyuk. He has all the tools you look for in a player and took the OHL by storm last year. His skill set is unbelievable and his hockey IQ is through the roof. I truly believe that if he were healthy and had been playing all season long he'd be up there with Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko. Luckily for Galchenyuk, there's a solid chance that he can return to the Sting's lineup in time for the end of the regular season and their playoff run.
I know people will look at a high-end guy like Alex Galchenyuk or Cody Ceci but Matt Finn is so dynamic. He is the best all-round defender available in this draft besides Ryan Murray. He has an innate ability to find space on the ice. He is like a veteran down low in how he handles guys much bigger than him. Finn also has a lot of offensive upside, as he matures, so too will his shot and he will begin to jump into the rush even more. You can see his confidence growing over time and as it grows he will start to take a few more risks. Matt Finn's game is extremely similar to Nicklas Lidstrom's game. Not a bad guy to be compared to.
I have to say Malcolm Subban, brother of Canadiens defenseman PK Subban, of the Belleville Bulls. This is a deep draft so there's going too be a ton of offensive and defensive talent. But Malcolm Subban looks like this kid is going too be a stud in between the pipes. Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning how important goaltending is. As most of you know, they went from a deep playoff run too "see ya" - back too the basement they went.
While other players are making them case, I still believe in the Sarnia Duo as 1-2 from the OHL. Yes a Subban is close, a few defenceman even. But after what Alex achieved last year, how do you discredit what he is? You saw him as a 16 year old completely destroy the competition. He was bigger and stronger than the year prior. Yes, he has played what 3 games this season? Take a look at his high ceiling of potential and talent. No one can come close to it (except Nail). Where several players can move up and down while playing, I don't find any reason to keep yo-yoing Galchenyuk. Number 2 in the OHL hands down. Could have been one but injuries happen.
The best draft eligible OHL player other than Nail Yakupov is Belleville Bulls Center Brendan Gaunce.
Gaunce has what it takes to become an NHL player, both on and off the ice, from skills, to diet, to attitude, he's the real deal and will play in the NHL. Its up to him whats role he plays when he gets there. Brendan is a big (6'2" 215lbs), physical forward who has speed and scoring touch but also plays well defensively. He thrives playing under Coach George Burnett and his two way system. He will join the impressive list of Forwards that Burnett has developed, like Keith Primeau, Manny Malhotra, Nathan Horton, and former Bulls Shawn Matthias, and Matt Beleskey. If he adds a little more grit to his game.
Brendan put up 55 goals and 93 assists in 86 games in 09-10. Great totals that made him the highest-scoring player of his age in Ontario that season. That season also seen him captain the same minor midget team, the Markham Waxers, he grew up watching his brother Cameron Gaunce a Colorado draft pick play for. Brendan won a Gold Medal with Team Canada in 2011 at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. This season he was invited to play and wear an "A" in the Top Prospects game. He currently wears a "A" with the Belleville Bulls and is the fans pick to wear the "C" next season. Next year he will get a real good look from Team Canada's World Jr Team selection committee. "As a young man, he’s very mature, very focused, very dedicated...he doesn't have a chink in his armour." is how Bulls assistant coach Jake Grimes has described him.
He currently leads the Bulls in scoring this season. Next year even when continuing to play in a defensive system he should be a top ten OHL point producer. Every year he gets better and better at both ends of the ice, something that makes NHL teams take notice. Two way players have never been as important as they are in today's Pro Game. He fits the bill, and it would surprise few he is drafted very early this June in Pittsburgh.
Honourable Mention to Radek Faksa of the Kitchener Rangers.
Although he isn't eligible in this question, I just have to throw in that Nail Yakupov IS the #1, and I don't know why Grigorenko is being mentioned as a candidate to go first. It's going to be the Fail for Nail with NHL teams losing now, not the fail for Mikhail.
But after Yakupov and, potentially Galchenyuk as we haven't seen enough of him to come to a verdict, I would love to pick a defenceman but I'm going to have to go with Brendan Gaunce. Gaunce might not be the most stunning player on the ice at all times, but he's as solid as they come at the age of 17. Last season, scouts said that Gabriel Landeskog reminded them of Mike Richards but down the middle. Well, I don't think Gaunce-Richards is quite a fair comparison, but I see a lot of Landeskog in Gaunce's game, of course with Brendan being a center. Gaunce is the most NHL ready in this draft, I believe.
Honourable mention to Ceci and Koekkoek - most drafts I would peg the defenceman over the forward no matter what. The offensive talent in this draft makes me think otherwise, but I still do believe that these two Ottawa-area-born d-men will go higher than expected.