Draft-Eligible Greyhounds, Knights, and Spirit

The draft is just about here and it feels amazing.  I don’t have to ask if you are nervous and excited because I already know that you are.  But put those feelings on hold for just one more minute – we still have a little bit of more work to do.

We’ve been hammering you with draft content for weeks on end now, but what good would it be if we let you off the hook now?  The draft is less than a day away, and to me that means there’s still time to explore some prospects.

The Leafs, as we all know, have lots of ties to the OHL.  Namely, the team has former GMs of the Sault Ste-Marie Greyhounds, London Knights, and Saginaw Spirit all occupying important hockey ops roles.  Nobody should be in a better position to make educated decisions on the players coming from these teams than the likes of Kyle Dubas, Mark Hunter, and Jim Paliafito.  So with those connections in mind, I think we better do a quick rundown of all of the players ranked by NHL Central Scouting coming from these organizations.  Maybe the Leafs will draft none of these players, but hey, in the event that they do it’s better to know who they are before they get drafted than to scramble for information on these players after your favorite team takes them.

Without further ado, let’s get started:

SAULT STE-MARIE GREYHOUNDS

Zach Senyshyn will most likely be the first Greyhound off the board at the 2015 draft, expected by most to be a mid-second round pick.  Senyshyn is your classic “raw” player.  He’s 6″1′ and is a fantastic skater.  He’s also got a very good wrist shot and some good but inconsistent puck-handling skills.  If he pans out it will likely be as a middle-six forward in the NHL.  A late riser this year, Senyshyn put up 45 points in 66 games for the Soo this season.  He has a PCS% of 15.70%.

Blake Speers has a lot of fans here at TLN.  Our own Jon Steitzer ranked him in his first round, and Speers is also somebody we identified as being perhaps one of the more overlooked CHL forwards leading up to this draft.  He’s played a lot of center but plays more like a winger and projects as one in the pros.  Among Speers’ very best skills are his puck-handling and passing ability.  He really looks like a pro out there in this sense – he uses his puck skills and playmaking to create offense, but he doesn’t do it in a high-risk fashion that might irritate coaches.  He’s also a good two-way player with intelligent offensive and defensive zone instincts.  Among the concerns are his size (5″11′), his skating (good but needs some improvement), and his goal-scoring ability (he doesn’t possess a great wrist shot).

Here’s a good video of Speers to give you a better idea of his playing style:

Similar to Speers, a couple of weeks ago we identified Gustav Bouramman as one of the more overlooked CHL defensemen leading up to the draft.  Bouramman is a good skater with good all-around play.  Maybe one of the concerns with him is he doesn’t really stand out – he plays a passive style of game.  But he’s got some good raw talent, and when you couple it with hos production (44 points in 67 games) it’s a little surprising many expect him to go in the third or fourth round.  Maybe one of the things working against Bouramman is that he had Anthony DeAngelo and Darnell Nurse playing ahead of him on defense this season, cutting into minutes that might have otherwise been his.  Playing on a stacked team might not help either, as people could be attributing his success to the situation he’s been put into.  Nonetheless, he’s a solid player and would provide solid value in the middle portion of the draft.

Colton White had just 22 points on the season but figures to have good potential.  Not only is White a strong one-on-one defender, but he’s a pretty smooth skater and has shown small flashes of a bigger offensive upside.  He wasn’t overly noticeable this year – again, minutes were tough to come by on such a good team.  But he’s a pretty good two-way player and could end up being a good pick for somebody years down the line.

Blake Speers best fits the Leafs’ new “speed and skill” mantra and I’d suggest he’s the most likely Greyhound to be drafted by the Leafs this weekend.  That’s especially true when you consider that he’s expected to go right around where the Leafs’ 3rd-round pick sits at 65th overall.  You can make cases for Senyshyn, Bouramman, and White too, but as of right now the Leafs don’t have a second-round pick so drafting Senyshyn would be tough to do.  Bouramman and White fit the bill relatively well, but there may be players with more apparent speed and/or skill available when it’s the Leafs turn to pick.

LONDON KNIGHTS

There’s nothing to say on Mitch Marner that hasn’t been said already.  The Leafs might very well draft him 4th overall, and he’s pretty good at the game of hockey.

Now for another player that we’ve identified as an overlooked CHL player – this time 6″7′ defenseman Chris Martenet.  Martenet figures to have a low upside (he has a PCS% of 30.0 but compares to players such as Adam McQuaid and Mark Fraser), but given his overbearing size he probably has a decent chance at reaching it.  He’s a good skater for his size and is an intelligent defensive zone player.  Pretty much what you’d expect out of a 6″7′ defenseman who had just 16 points this season.  He’s expected to go in the third or fourth round this weekend.

Brandon Crawley is another London defenseman who notched 16 points this past season with 86 penalty minutes to boot.  Crawley’s production level was low, but he does have at least some breakout potential.  He makes a good first pass and slowly started to emerge for London over the course of the season as more of an effective two-way player.  I wouldn’t bank big on him, but he’s expected go in the later rounds of this draft and could be solid value there.

I think we all know that the likelihood of Mitch Marner being a Leaf by the end of Friday night is pretty good, just given how talented he is, the sort of fit he could be for the team, and who else is expected to be available at 4th overall.  Martenet and Crawley on the other hand probably won’t be Leafs picks.  You could make some sort of argument for either of them, but there figure to be better “speed and skill” fits available at every stage of the draft.

SAGINAW SPIRIT

Mitchell Stephens has rocketed up draft boards after a very strong showing at the U-18s this past April for Team Canada, posting 10 points in 7 games on the team’s top line alongside Mathew Barzal.  His biggest strengths are his good wrist shot, pro-style puckhandling abilities, and overall two-way intelligence.  His skating is okay and he’s not overly flashy so his upside may be limited to middle-six forward status, but he’s well-rounded enough and impressed enough late in the year that he’s almost assuredly going to be drafted in the second round at the draft.

Ranked 150th by NHL Central Scouting, the 5″10′ Russian winger Artem Artemov posted just 32 points in 68 games for Saginaw this season.  He’s not what you might expect when you think of “5”10′ Russian winger” – he does a lot of his work in the “trenches” so to speak and isn’t overly flashy – but does seem to possess okay potential as a power forward.  That said, his mixture of production and tangible talent may not be enough for him to even be drafted this weekend.

Artemov is no lock to be drafted, but his teammate Marcus Crawford – a defenseman ranked 207th by Central Scouting, seems to be on the outside looking in.  That said, Crawford probably possess more raw talent than Artemov.  He’s a decent skater and puck-handler, possessing solid vision and offensive instincts.  He is a bit raw though, and he needs some real smoothing over both offensively and defensively.  But there’s enough talent there that he could be a worthwhile 6th- or 7th-round pick.

Stephens isn’t overly speedy or overly skilled, but he might have just enough of both to earn consideration from Toronto.  Again, as of the time of this post Toronto doesn’t have a 2nd-round pick which is where Stephens is expected to go.  That could very well change – in fact it probably will – but until the team has one it’s hard to see them taking him.  But if they do get a second, Stephens would make a reasonable amount of sense as a Leafs draft choice. 

As for Crawford and Artemov, I’d suggest Crawford could be a possible consideration of the team in the very late stages of the draft.  I’m not sure I can see them drafting Artemov, but you never know.  Jim Paliafito would sure know more about him than me.

CONCLUSIONS

I’d mostly keep your eyes on virtually all of the Soo Greyhounds – especially Blake Speers.  When you watch him play, I just really think he could fit the bill as someone the new Leafs management staff would like.  As for London, aside from the very obvious Mitch Marner, don’t sleep on Brandon Crawley either.  I wouldn’t bank on it, but there’s enough there that it’s possible.  As for Saginaw, Mitchell Stephens would be the best fit among Spirit players as a “speed and skill”-type player.  Marcus Crawford could be a late-round choice, and Artem Artemov, at least based on what we know, probably doesn’t fit in with the Leafs new philosophy.

And if nothing else, watch for the team to pick early and often this weekend.  They’re ready to rebuild through the draft and we’re finally at that point where it’s less about the talk and way more about the walk.  On a side-note, it’ll be interesting to see how many players from the OHL the team takes this weekend given the obvious organizational ties to that league.  Few NHL organizations if any should be in a better position to make educated decisions on the players coming out of that league than Toronto in the immediate future.

It should be a fun weekend.  Happy drafting everybody.