The hot-stove made its return last week after a couple weeks off and the panel examined who the most underrated forwards in the Ontario Hockey League are. Today the panel will continue with this three-part series and look at who the most underrated defenseman in the OHL are.
Joining me in today’s hot-stove is Chris Messina, John Duncan, Anthony Nicholson and Dominic Tiano.
My pick for most underrated defenseman in the OHL is Dylan DeMelo of the Mississauga Steelheads. When talking about the top defenseman in the OHL, DeMelo is never mentioned but when you look at the statistics he puts up and how valuable to his team he is, he’s right up there with the top defenseman in the OHL. He’s not a big name like Dougie Hamilton, Slater Koekkoek, Matt Finn, Ryan Murphy, or Cody Ceci, but he produces at similar rates as those guys. He wasn’t a 1st round pick and he plays on a team that doesn’t get a lot of respect from fans, but he’s a damn good defenseman and he doesn’t get near the credit he deserves. Thus, why he’s the most underrated defenseman in the OHL.
My pick for the most underrated defenseman in the OHL is Warren Steele of the Kingston Frontenacs. I might be slightly biased because I had a chance to watch him when he was 16 playing junior hockey in Smiths Falls and have followed him closely since but I believe he has quietly become on of the better all-round defenseman in the league.
He has a smooth skating stride with good hockey sense that allows him to get involved in the play and move the puck up ice while still being responsible in his own end. I definitely wouldn't categorize him as on offensive player and his numbers haven't jumped from the pace they were at in his rookie season, but I think he's game has taken another step forward this year after being undrafted by NHL teams last June. He is one of the Frontenacs we have watched grow with this team the last two seasons. I'd expect him to continue to improve as the team around him develops and gets better.
I'm going to be a bit of a homer in this response when I choose Frontenacs' defenseman, Michael Moffat as the OHL's most underrated defenseman. He certainly should be considered one of the most improved players in the league. Last season Moffat was a woeful minus-44 in 65 games. Moffat was a player that I really felt would not make the team this season, especially when they used 2 of their first 4 picks in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection on defensemen, Roland McKeown, and Dylan DiPerna.
Instead, Moffat worked really hard in the off season on his strength, foot speed and shot. He logs the most number of minutes on the back end for the Frontenacs, plays against the other team's best lines, and has really picked up his physical play. He has a plus-6 rating in 24 games, this season. For a while, early in the season, he led the team in total points scored, and sits fifth in assists amongst defensemen in the league. Dougie Hamilton leads the OHL by a wide margin, but Moffat's 18 assists places him 3 back of Codi Ceci, of the 67s, and Matt Petgrave of the Generals, and two back of Olli Maatta of the Knights. Pretty impressive company for Moffat to be in.
Moffat has been paired with Warren Steele all season and the two continue to play against the opposing team's best lines. The two compliment each other well, as Steele is a more offensive style of defenseman, who takes some chances, although Michael has more points. Moffat has been there to back up his teammate, and has really learned to use his 6'01" 210 lb frame to his advantage, this season. The Frontenacs have two 16 year olds, and one rookie Import player on the back end. 19 year old, Moffat has really taken on a leadership role on the team, this year, as well, and is the only D who wears an A.
I know that he's injured until the holidays, but my answer would undoubtedly by Matt Petgrave of the Oshawa Generals, who seems to improve every season. This year, he remains third in scoring among defencemen, behind only Dougie Hamilton and Cody Ceci, despite being injured over a week ago. Matt is in his overage season, and the injury is unfortunate, as this season may be his last opportunity to earn an NHL deal. How he has gone as long as he has without an NHL scout getting his name on a contract is a mystery, but he will get a good look when he returns in the New Year. If he can pick up his play where it was before he got hurt, he's unlikely to be overlooked again.
Going to stick with the area that I cover most and that's draft eligible players. With that said, there are two defensemen I would have taken a gamble on in the 2012 NHL Draft: Evan McEneny of the Kitchener Rangers and Warren Steele of the Kingston Frontenacs. The two situations differ drastically, but I felt both should have been drafted last year.
For McEneny it was an injury that sidelined him after his second game and wiped out his season that made him go undrafted. But in my opinion there was to much potential there to overlook. This would have been a pick that would have defined low risk, high reward. The Vancouver Canucks realized this and signed him as an undrafted free agent and could go down as the best free agent signing of 2012.
McEneny is a big solid defenseman already known for his defensive game. The only question was "what can he bring offensively?" Well, in just the two games he played last season it was starting to show. And after missing an entire season, and a bit of a slow start this year, he's coming out. One has to remember that in Kitchener he's playing behind Ryan Murphy when it comes to offense. Murphy will get all the top offensive minutes and McEneny will pick up the scraps. His 2 goals and 8 assists in 22 games this season are a great considering most have come in the month of November.
Steele finished in the top 5 among draft eligible defensemen in scoring last season and probably didn't get the looks he should have on a poor Kingston squad. He finished last year with 7 goals and 22 assists and this year sits one point ahead of McEneny to date. He's playing on a very young Kingston squad that NHL scouts are paying attention to and he will get some extra looks this season, but he may end up going the same route as McEneny and signing as a free agent somewhere in the NHL.
Steele doesn't come with the offensive abilities of McEneny, but I don't believe he's a slouch either.