Welcome back to the Wild West Wednesday Weekly where we examine what's going on in the Western Conference. The Wild West Weekly should be available following Wednesday night action so it's up-to-date.
When NHL Central Scouting released their rankings on Monday, the West-leading (and league-leading) Owen Sound Attack had two players land amongst the top 25 skaters. Defenceman Chris Bigras, who really came into his own during last year’s playoffs, landed at 10th, while Zach Nastasiuk was seen five spots later at 15. Bigras has notched 17 points (1G/16A) in 24 games and has a +15 to boot. To put that in perspective, the puck-mover has more assists than 10 defenders ahead of him in the scoring race (he’s 18th), and forms a pairing with overager Nathan Chiarlitti that combines for a +40 (Bigras is a +25), second best for a pairing in the league. Nastasiuk has missed a handful of games this year, but has put up 11 points (6 goals) in 17 games and is a +6. He also saw a four-game point streak end Sunday against Windsor.
The Plymouth Whalers, by players’ admission, do a great job of cultivating two-way talent and teaching the game. Ryan Hartman is another one of those finds, and could make an NHL team very happy. At 11th amongst OHL skaters on CSS’s list, Hartman is playing at a point-per-game pace with 22 points (8G/14A) in 22 games. The first-year forward doesn’t count amongst the rookie scoring race, but if he did he’d slide into a tie for second. And how about this: On a team that features plenty of NHL-mined talent, Hartman is tied for first on the Whalers in scoring with Rickard Rakell and Stefan Noesen.
Currently riding an astonishing eight-game winning streak, the London Knights can thank a number of draft-eligibles for their success. Of course Max Domi runs the Knights’ offence, ranking second in scoring of draft-eligible players (Sean Monahan is first with 36 points), and Domi’s 32 points are good enough for 12th in the league (13G/19A). Domi’s draft mate Bo Horvat gives the Knights the 4th and 5th ranked skaters, and while he doesn’t get the same notoriety, Horvat’s well-balanced game has developed this season, and he should continue to benefit from the attention paid to Domi. Two spots away at seven, import Nikita Zadorov has been a revelation in the plus/minus department (+15 which is first amongst rookies), and fans of the team have fallen in love with the gritty and talented defenceman. Then at 16 there’s Remi Ellie, a forward who has caught the eye of some with the improvements made to his game as of late, but the real story might be Jake Patterson, 5th amongst goalies. Patterson has rebounded from a season in disarray last year to become the backbone of this Knights’ team, and has laid claim to the starting job (He’s 8-1 this year with a 2.25 GAA and a 0.925 sv%).
If it wasn’t for Jason Dickinson of the Guelph Storm, the Knights might be able to boast back-to-back-to-back players in these rankings. Dickinson came in at 6th in the rankings, and he’s continued to soar since a late-season/playoff run last year. Dickinson is a big-bodied player who has acknowledged he wants to pack on some pounds, but has a great mix of size, skating, and hands. Teammate Hunter Garlent comes in at 21, and if he stays this low he could become a steal. While the size (5’8”) is a question, Garlent is a heart-and-soul type player who can find ways to dominate for stretches, but is currently sidelined with a broken ankle. Garlent has put points on the board with 10 (4G/6A) this season, and has a Player of the Week award to his credit. Two spots away is hulking defenceman Ben Harpur, whose size alone (6’5”/210lbs) has him on the scouts’ radars, is a hard-working defenceman who isn’t afraid to grind out the rough patches, understands the game, and works to maintain his skating—a huge asset for teams looking for size on the blueline.
Coming in at number nine, is Justin Bailey of the Kitchener Rangers. Fans have loved what Bailey has brought to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium in his first year in the league. A big, strong kid with room to fill out, he moves well and can handle the puck. As he gets older he’ll become harder and harder to wrangle, and as Head Coach Steve Spott has said, ‘you know he’s going to [fill out] because of his father (former NFL linebacker Carlton Bailey).’ As an aside, the Rangers are currently on a streak of three-straight years with a first-round pick, and if Bailey finishes the year well he could continue that stretch.
While the Sarnia Sting didn’t have any players crack the top 25, next year they should see a couple of players owning the rankings. Both import Nikolay Goldobin and defenceman Anthony DeAngelo are late 1995 birthdays, with Goldobin looking like a dangerous commodity for 2013. Most import picks benefit from a year of seasoning in the OHL, and Goldobin is playing at a PPG pace (22 points in 23 games) while getting his ‘feet wet’. While not on the same level, the ‘late-birthday, feet wet’ strategy worked for a certain member of the Sarnia Sting last year who went first overall. If his rookie season continues to progress like this, it should be interesting to see where Goldobin ends up on the rankings this time next year.
After a 41-goal season, what do you do for an encore performance? That’s the question facing Kerby Rychel of the Windsor Spitfires, as he sits at number three in CSS’s rankings. Rychel (like Sean Monahan) is the beneficiary of a late birthday, but (again, like Monahan) could have been a high pick last year based on his showing. Despite a slow start this year, Rychel has continued to show a nose for the net, and is dedicated to developing an all-around game that should benefit his hockey future. Goalie Jordan DeKort meanwhile, ended up as the fourth-ranked goalie. Now he may not have the record (0-3-0-2) that’s eye-catching to the scouts, but his 2.97 GAA and 0.914 sv% become all the more impressive when you consider he’s played in four games where he’s faced 35+ shots (one of those was a 43-save 5-1 loss). He’s also got the big frame (6’4”) that the scouts love in their goalies these days.
The Saginaw Spirit were represented on the rankings twice, as forwards Jimmy Lodge (14th) and Nick Moutrey (17th) both show up. After scoring eight goals and just 12 points in his rookie season, Lodge has already equaled the goal total and surpassed his points (16) from last year in just 22 games. Lodge has been especially hot in November with 11 points in 10 games, with four of the five games he’s scored in being multi-point efforts (including a four-point game). Moutrey has also eclipsed his nine-point (2G/7A) rookie season to with his totals this year (5G/9A). Moreso, Moutrey has been pretty hot since six scoreless games to start the season: He has been held scoreless in just five of his last 16 games.
Only one member of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds cracked the early list, but it’s not a surprise who it is. Nor is it a surprise how high he landed. Defenceman Darnell Nurse is a favourite of those who follow the OHL. He’s got offensive instincts, size, talent, and bit of that Soo nastiness. Nurse plays the game hard at both ends of the ice, and the 6’3” defender will take a stroll to rush the puck if it suits him. The fact that Nurse’s performance hasn’t fallen off this season by trying to do too much when the ‘Hounds defence was wrought with injuries and suspensions is impressive, while the fact he’s a +4 on a team that has a -14 goal differential tells you plenty too.
The surprise of the list may be Stephen Harper of the Erie Otters sliding in at number nine. Coming into the season, expectations were pretty high for Harper who had finished third in goals by a rookie with 24 last year. Things got even more serious when Harper began the year on a line with Captain Connor Brown and first overall pick Connor McDavid. Harper started well with five points (2G/3A) in his first five games and made it four goals and five assists through his first eight, but since then has mustered just three goals and one assist in 14 games. Harper has the talent and ability to surpass last year’s 24 goals, but we’ve seen an inconsistent game hurt players plenty of times before in their draft years.
Bonus: Congratulations to Attack goaltender Jordan Binnington on not only his back-to-back shutouts and Player of the Week award, but on becoming the franchise leader in wins for the Attack on Saturday (win number 66). Binnington recorded win number 68 Wednesday night, along with his third-straight shutout.
Bryan Thiel is a contributor to ITO and files feature reports for 'Inside the O' on Rogers TV. You can follow Bryan on Twitter @BryanThiel_88 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.