TORONTO, ONT. -- With just about 20 e-mails of the 'When are the rankings coming out variety' today, we can honestly say it's nice to see our base so eager for the launch.
In the lead up to what was supposed to be a January 16th release, however, we've determined that we'd like to include the viewings from this weekend's Peterborough Tournament of Champions to be factored into the release.
Why? Well, as much as we're comfortable with the top range of this draft crop, and then some, there's still quite a bit of volatility as we work our way into the depth of the crop. What is effectively the last real tournament prior to the OHL Cup, this year's field in Peterborough is quite decent, as it features a 20-team field that's bolstered by the two entries from HEO.
-- NOTE: Our Mid-Term '03 Ranking will still be released on Monday January 22nd --
All things considered, we determined it best to accrue for these viewings as there's a number of players this weekend that we want to key in on.
Yes, we all know about Quinton Byfield and Jamie Drysdale. We know about how great the Toronto Marlboros are this year. And, as evidenced by our Preliminary Top 100, we also know that this is a draft year that will be largely defined by less than a dozen teams, although there are certainly players on lesser-regarded teams who will not be overlooked at the draft table.
That all being said, let's talk about a few of the other storylines that are well worth knowing.
Will they or won't they?
...be eligible, that is. For Andrei (Andrey) Bakanov and Daniil Chayka, that's a decision that will have a substantial impact on how the entire draft shakes out. If you look at recent history, you'd be hard pressed to find a Russian player who wasn't made eligible for the draft, so it's safe to assume that both of these players should tick off the necessary boxes.
Said argument is bolstered by the fact that Chayka played in the GTHL Top Prospects Game, while Bakanov made the trip up to Whitby for the Silver Stick where he joined Oakland's 15U squad, leaving his 16U team for the weekend.
These determinations will be made by the league likely no later than mid-March, so we'll stay tuned to see what the decision is. If the light turns green, expect both of these guys to be firmly in the top-5 or top-10 picture, depending on who they're willing to report to.
Don't forget about school
It's easy for teams to forget about, or just overlook entirely, players who have moved on to the Prep School rank for their draft year.
Before we get to that, let's just recall that for the purpose of our rankings, we give equal weighting to Americans and Canadians, regardless of an NCAA commitment. Why do we do that? Because we're looking at this crop objectively, it's ultimately up to the OHL, USHL, and NCAA programs to determine how the actual development paths pan out.
Okay, enough of that.
Jason Siedem left North Jersey for Avon Old Farms where he's quietly been performing rather well. The slight centre still needs some physical maturation - which bodes well if you see his brother, Ryan - but the Boston College commit has been no worse for the wear as one of the top-scoring 02-birthdates in a noteworthy conference. At this point, you'd have to certainly consider him as an NTDP candidate, but there's obviously a large group that's going to be in the mix for a spot in Plymouth this year.
Sticking with Avon, it hasn't exactly been an iconic season for Ryan Kirwan thus far. The former Syracuse forward was one of the elite point-producers in 14U, but he's struggled a bit in prep and is still without a goal to his name. Prep school can be difficult on any true sophomore at the best of times, but if there's one guy that needs to have a big NTDP camp, it's him.
We also shouldn't overlook John Louder, the third member of that Avon '02 crop up front who continues to project as a rangy forward with good playmaking ability, albeit in a package that still leaves you with a few lingering question marks about whether or not it's all going to come together.
We'll also give a shout-out to Anthony Cipollone at Loomis-Chaffee, as the Vermont commit is about as crafty as they come with the puck. With a 5-foot-6 frame, it's pretty safe to say that he'll see that commitment through, but when you look at what Cole Caufield has done with The Program this year, perhaps it would be unwise to overlook him as a potential NTDP guy just yet.
Speaking of Plymouth
If there's one certainty with this American '02 crop, it's that nothing is certain. Outside of your Antonio Stranges, Ty Smilanic, Chase Yoder, and maybe a couple of others, it's pretty tough to peg many as being an absolute lock to be in Plymouth next year.
This year has seen a lot of uneven performances from Americans that haven't had the smoothest of transitions to the 16U age group, which makes this year's NTDP camp particularly important as there's going to be a lot of opportunity to really put yourself in the mix with a big performance.
This, of course, will have some major OHL Draft implications as anyone who's left on the sidelines may all of the sudden find themselves sitting there with a lot more interest in the OHL route than they may have otherwise had.
If you're unfamiliar with the #WhosNext hashtag, it's the signature player recruitment campaign for the United States Hockey League, or the USHL as everyone likes to refer to it.
While you likely weren't paying attention, the 2017/18 season was particularly interesting as no fewer than four (4) Canadians started the season in the league as a 16-year-old, a number which is high. Well, all it took was until Christmas to see that number dwindle as Michael Vukojevic reneged on a Michigan commitment in favour of Kitchener, and former London Jr. Knight Brett Budgell left Chicago in favour of a move to the QMJHL where Charlottetown held his rights.
Christian Sbaraglia, a Penn State commit, remains in Omaha as the team's backup goaltender, but the developments outside of him have been pretty intriguing. Why, you might ask? Well, in just a few months time as this '02 crop transitions out of the minor midget ranks, we'll see if another wave of Ontario players look to head south as a 16-year-old, or if these developments perhaps put a stall on any such intentions.
Also on the USHL front, the tender season ramps up as it kicked off with Finnish defenseman Ruben Rafkin tendering with Tri-City. If you're not familiar with the tender process, or the USHL Draft process in general, check out their website because we're about reaching our character limit here.
In all seriousness, while the OHL Priority Selection is getting closer on the calendar, the next three-plus months leave no shortage of adventure with some of the most important viewings of the season still yet to come, along with a draft-day storyline that only continues to build intrigue as the big day draws nearer.