American Prospect Update: Getting Offensive in the OHL

Last Tuesday passed without an American Prospect Update, but it has returned to its normal spot this week to put the spotlight back on the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Today, we take a look at some of the top American prospects plying their trade in the Ontario Hockey League.

It would be impossible to blog about the NHL Entry Draft and not mention the OHL. Plenty of American kids have headed north with varying degrees of success in Major Junior. There are quite a few that have used the O as a vehicle to high selections in the draft and success at the NHL level.

Most years there is at least one big-time American OHLer that everyone is talking about. Like last year, Windsor’s Cam Fowler was the toast of the prospect world…at least until draft day (still baffling). Zach Bogosian was a top-three pick in 2008 after a big season with Peterborough. Patrick Kane, of course, went first overall out of London in 2007. Bobby Ryan was the second pick in 2005 out of Owen Sound. So this year doesn’t have that type of OHL star power.

Still, several prospects have positioned themselves well with good offensive seasons thus far in the O. Shane Prince is the top American-born scorer in the league, while Stefan Noesen has been a pleasant surprise for Plymouth. Brandon Saad looks as though he is a mid-first round lock and his teammate Vince Trocheck is putting up plenty of points. A more detailed look at these prospects comes after the jump…

Shane Prince has had a strong season for the Ottawa 67’s. For almost the entire year, Prince has been among the OHL’s top scorers and has been a big part of Ottawa’s success (2nd place in the Eastern Conference). With 25 goals and 57 assists for 82 points, which ranks eighth overall in the OHL, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward has done nothing but produce. Prince has shown consistency in scoring as well. It seems like you can pretty much count on him putting up points, as he has not had a drought of longer than three consecutive games and has rarely gone more than one game without a point throughout the year.

Prince’s point production is slightly surprising due to the fact that he’s in his fourth third year in the OHL and had not previously shown this kind of scoring prowess. His priorseasons (two years a year and a half with the Kitchener Rangers and now in his first full season with Ottawa) were rather quiet. Prior to the 2010-11 campaign, Prince’s career high was 17 points. A question to ask during Prince’s draft season is: Is this a sign of things to come? or Is this a fluke season? Those are the questions that you can’t have definitively answered in a draft season. You can only project at this point. If a team projects this as a sign of things to come, he’s going to be at least a high-second-round pick. At least.

You can’t talk about Prince without talking about some of his teammates that have certainly helped contribute to the American’s high point total. Having the OHL’s leading goal scorer in Tyler Toffoli (50-45-95) and Ryan Martindale (78 points ranks 15th in the league) on the 67’s certainly has helped Prince’s game. There’s something that has to be said for being able to play with elite players and contributing. Some players sink into the shadows, but Prince has thrust himself into the spotlight by contributing offensively. It’s not like he’s only dishing it out, Prince has shown plenty of times that he is capable of putting the puck in the net himself. As we know, stats don’t always tell the full story, but it sounds like they tell us at least a little something about Prince.

His draft position will tell us everything we need to know about how much statistics matter to NHL teams. For more on Prince, check out Kirk Luedeke’s Q&A with the Ottawa playmaker on the Bruins 2011 Draft Watch Blog.

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Another player who has had a bit of a surprising offensive season is Stefan Noesen of the Plymouth Whalers. The native of Plano, Texas, has put up 72 points with 31 goals and 41 assists in his second OHL season. As a rookie, Noesen totaled just eight points in 33 games. Now, with a much bigger role for a Whalers club sans-Seguin, the Texan has answered the bell. I’ve got to give credit to Kirk Luedeke, who was well ahead of the curve in his early-season profile of Noesen.

With good size and consistent production, Noesen appears to be positioning himself well for the draft. If he can continue that type of play through the OHL playoffs, we may see a slight jump in position. It is likely that Noesen will end up in the mid-second to early-third round at the latest. Considering how his rookie year in the OHL went, that’s a pretty impressive spike.

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Brandon Saad‘s draft stock remains in the first round, but its fairly safe to say that he is no longer a Top-5 pick. I still think this kid is a special player having been able to watch almost every game he played last season. However, consistency has been an issue for the Saginaw forward this year. He has 26 goals and 23 assists, so its not like he’s not contributing. I think there was hope for the Gibsonia, Pa., native to light up the scoreboards around the league coming off of a stellar season at the National Team Development Program. He was brilliant in October and November for the Spirit, but has trailed off. While the lack of consistency is cause for concern, Saad is still a very attractive option for NHL GMs.

First off, you can’t deny that the kid is big, 6-foot-2, 211 pounds and he knows how to use it. He’s not going to be throwing his weight around too much, but he is going to be strong on the puck and strong in general. Saad skates with power and generates speed with his strong legs, as evidenced by this goal. With his size and his skill set, I don’t think he’s too far away from being NHL ready, but another year in the O to find that consistency and confidence might do the trick.

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Saad’s Saginaw teammate, Vincent Trocheck, is having a pretty good season offensively as well. In fact, with his 55 points (22g-33a) in 61 games, he’s posted better stats than the more heralded Saad.

Another added bonus with Trocheck is that he’s improved from last season, which can’t be understated. A player that has been progressing, particularly in the statistical department, puts himself in a good light for those making projections as to what the player might be in the future. In his second season in the OHL, Trocheck has easily surpassed his numbers from his rookie year in which he posted 15 goals and 28 assists.

Size will be an issue for the Spirit center (5-11, 180), so I don’t think we’ll see him rocketing up the charts, but he was ranked 42nd by NHL Central Scouting, so there are evaluators out there that think he’s got second-round potential. If he does end up falling to the third round, whoever is able to snap him up gets a very nice value pick. He’s another player that can greatly benefit from a good showing in the playoffs. Just ask Jeff Skinner.

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Prospect links:

Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News has a great column on the size factor of the smaller draft prospects like Rocco Grimaldi and Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers). Kennedy has spoken to some insiders that seem to think it won’t be an issue, especially for those two highly skilled little guys. As always, if you like prospects, Kennedy’s Hot List should be priority reading every Tuesday.

It’s Minnesota State High School Playoffs right now. Minnesota Hockey Hub is sure to have it covered wall-to-wall. With plenty of draft-eligible Minnesotans still alive in the hunt for the X, it should be interesting to watch. For some of the more insightful analysis on this same topic, you certainly need to be visiting Western College Hockey Blog throughout the state playoffs, as well.

I should have linked this last time I mentioned International Scouting Services, but here’s an in-depth look at its February rankings on Hockey’s Future. In addition to the rankings, there are plenty of good scouting reports and reasons players are rising or falling. In relation to today’s topic, Brandon Saad is ranked 11th on ISS’s latest list.

That’s it for today’s American Prospect Update. Make sure to check back for Thursday’s edition, in which I hope to have a Q&A posted. So stay tuned for updates on that.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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2 Responses to American Prospect Update: Getting Offensive in the OHL

  1. Alain Martin says:

    You have the information wrong. Prince is only in his 3rd OHL season. 08-09 was a rookie in Kitchener, 09-10 split between Kitchener and Ottawa, 10-11 in Ottawa. For us fans in Ottawa we know he is our most consistent player. Whatever line he is on provides the offense. Not to diminish our other great players but wherever Prince goes the offense goes.

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