By JEFF BLAY
Here is my Top 10 list of Most Improved Players from around the OHL. Somewhat in order, but this was a toughie. There are so many players who have upped their game since last season, but the following are players I feel have made the most improvement, which has resulted positively for their respective teams. The honourable mentions could very well have made this list, but I simply couldn’t decide on just 10. With such a big league and so many new and improving players, I may have skimmed over some worthy choices. If you feel I have, please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Ryan Strome ('93), C – Niagara IceDogs
2009/10: GP: 61 G: 8 A: 19 PTS: 27 PIM: 61
After a promising rookie season, Ryan Strome showed spurts of potential last year with both the Colts and IceDogs, and came into the 2010 training camp a new player. People expected this kid to do good things, but I don’t think anyone quite expected him to do as well as he has to start the season. Strome has been a top scorer in the OHL since the beginning of the season, not to mention scoring possibly one of the most talked about goals not only in the OHL, but in the entire hockey world. The buzz around the rink from scouts, and one of my sources in particular, Jeff Marek of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, is that Strome could pull a Jeff Skinner and sneak into the Top Ten of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, should he continue his exceptional play throughout the remainder of the season. For not really being noticed as a top pick in pre-season, Strome has done quite well in making himself known during first 18 games of the season. He leads the IceDogs with 9 goals, 19 assists, and 28 points. For this reason, Strome is the most improved player in the OHL.
2. Ryan Murphy ('93), D – Kitchener Rangers
2009-10: GP: 62 G: 6 A: 33 PTS: 39 PIM: 22
Ryan Murphy was one of the top rookies last season – especially amongst defensemen. Although he had a more than impressive 39 point season last year, he as improved himself even more and excelled as not only the top offensive defenseman, but one of the top five scorers in the OHL to start the season. Murphy as already recorded 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in just 17 games and currently sites in third overall in league scoring. Murphy worked hard over the summer to improve his skills even more, and he could very well be one of the most exciting defenders to watch in the OHL today.
3. Shane Prince ('92), LW – Ottawa 67’s
2009/10: GP: 65 G: 15 A: 15 PTS: 30 PIM: 45
With the exit of a few of Ottawa’s top players, this season Prince has found himself facing more ice time and getting a better chance to prove himself. So far, he has done just that as he is vastly approaching his last years totals in the first 18 games of the season, as he has already recorded 7 goals, 19 assists and 26 points. Prince has gained confidence both with and without the puck, and playing with the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Ryan Martindale, Cody Lindsay and countless other successful producers on the 67’s roster, Prince could very well fit in with the OHL’s elite if he continues to walk the path he is currently on. He should be one of the 67’s top producers this season, as he currently leads the team in points with Toffoli, Martindale, and Thomas Nesbitt nipping at his heels.
4. Colin Behenna ('91), C – Barrie Colts
2009/10: GP: 55 G: 7 A: 18 PTS: 25 PIM: 14
After the Barrie Colts made a Memorial Cup run last season, they have started this one with a lot less key players as they lost many to over-age, the AHL, and a few to the NHL. With many top-scorers gone from the roster, new opportunity awaits those left behind. Behenna is a perfect example. After a quite first two seasons, Behenna has started this one leading the Colts with 5 goals, 15 assists and 20 points in 17 games. His skill seems to be much improved, and increased ice time along with time on the power play will allow Colin to break out and improve his totals by a margin should he continue his stellar play on the struggling Barrie team.
5. Ian Watters ('91), LW – Brampton Battalion
2009/10: GP: 57 G: 9 A: 16 PTS: 25 PIM: 46
Watters leads the Brampton Battalion in points, and is a major reason why this underrated team is doing so well to start the season. With 11 goals, 5 assists and 16 points in just 17 games, he has already nearly reached his last years’ totals in roughly 1/3 of the games played. Watters hasn’t been talked about too too much, but is quietly making a name for himself, and should he continue his streak, he could very well be one of the top scorers for the Battalion and make for a valuable over-aged player next season. He looks more confident in the offensive zone, and has learned to take way more shots on net, which has paid of for him so far.
6. Jacob Riley ('93), G – Brampton Battalion
As a rookie last season, Riley played in 10 games where he posted a 2.56 GAA, .898 SV% and a 2-4-1-0 record. This season, Riley has been given the chance to start in 11 games due to the loss of starting goaltender Patrick Kileen to over-age. In the 11 games, Riley has stopped 241 shots with a 2.86 GAA, a .893 SV% and 5-3-0-3 record. Although competing for a spot with fellow goalie Dennis Saikkonen, if Riley continues to play the way he has, I think he has a legitimate chance to take over the starting position. He needs to work on his shootouts, but has by far looked like the strongest goalie for the Battalion to start the season, and certainly looks much improved compared to last season.
7. Brandon Francisco ('93), LW – Sarnia Sting
2009/10: GP: 65 G: 12 A: 20 PTS: 32 PIM: 14
Coming off an impressive rookie season, there was no doubt Brandon Francisco had great potential and could breakout in his sophomore season. So far he has lived up to the hype, and although he is not in the OHL’s top ten, his confidence and skill has noticeably improved. Francisco was a -30 last season with the Sting even though he scored 32 points, but this season he has already recorded about half of his last years totals and maintained a +6 rating. The Sting started off hot before cooling down as of late, but Francisco has the ability to be one of the leaders on the team and continue to improve as a player. He has the potential to be one of a team’s top scorers.
8. Garrett Wilson ('91), LW – Owen Sound Attack
2009/10: GP: 65 G: 36 A: 25 PTS: 61 PIM: 80
The captain of the Owen Sound Attack has always been an impact player, but in his fourth OHL season, Wilson has started the season with passion, grit, and much improved skill to lead the OHL in goals and the impressive Owen Sound Attack in scoring, with a whopping 18 goals and 11 assists for 29 points in just 17 games.
has emerged as a pure goal scorer and offensive juggernaut on special teams with 9 PPG and 2 SHG, and will surely be one of the Attack’s top producers throughout the season.
9. Dougie Hamilton ('93), D, Niagara IceDogs
2009/10: GP: 64 G: 3 A: 13 PTS: 16 PIM: 36
overall in Bob McKenzie’s pre-season scouting report for the 2011 NHL Draft, this powerful offensive defensemen will break out this season and be one of the top offensive producers among OHL defenders. His size, vision, skating ability, physicality, and wicked shot all contribute to
being a complete package. Already notching 2 goals and 10 assists in 17 games, Hamilton will surely bypass his last seasons totals and is expected to go in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft. He leads the IceDogs in +/- with a +10, and is a great power play quarter back with 2PPG and 3PPA to start the season.
10. Kale Kerbashian ('90), LW – Sarnia Sting
2009-10: GP: 58 G: 26 A: 30 PTS: 56 PIM: 28
Another Sting player makes the list. As a seasoned veteran and over-aged player, Kerbashian can use his experience to really breakout as an OA this season. Although his numbers have been relatively impressive throughout his tenure in the OHL, Kerbashian seems to be playing with a more intensive edge to start the 2010-11 season. He has already recorded 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points, currently tied with Ryan Strome for the 5th/6th
spot in league scoring. Kerbashian will definitely be one of the Stings’ key leaders both on and off the ice for the remainder of the season, and for these reasons he makes the Top 10.
Scott Stajcer, G –
Tyler Hostetter, D –
John Cullen, G –
Mitchell Theoret, C - Niagara IceDogs
Stefan Noesen, RW - Plymouth Whalers
Tyler Brown, F - Plymouth Whalers