'02 Mid-Term Top 200: The Plot Thickens

January 24, 2018

TORONTO, ONT. -- We've long been on the record saying that this '02 crop has the potential to be a special group, and as we've entered into 2018, that storyline remains ever present. There's a few surprises - both good, and bad - that sprinkle this age group, but for the most part, it's all about jockeying for position now as this age group sets up for its turn at the OHL Draft table.


| The Ranking |


Links: Mid-Term Top-200 ($) | Register Log In



*Note: Additional player ranking commentary will be uploaded to the ranking on January 24th*



| The Top-10 |



Quinton Byfield



York Simcoe Express MM


Jamie Drysdale



Toronto Marlboros MM


Antonio Stranges



Little Caesars 16U


Andrei Bakanov



Oakland Jr. Grizzlies 16U


Dylan Peterson



CIH Academy Midget White


Cole Perfetti



Vaughan Kings MM


Daniil Chayka



Jr. Canadiens MM


Owen Power



Mississauga Reps MM


Cameron Tolnai



Oakville Rangers MM


Evan Vierling



York Simcoe Express MM


There's one new entry into this group, as we have it, with Evan Vierling joining the contingent. The York Simcoe pivot has ramped his game up to a new level and played with the consistency this season that eluded him a season ago in bantam. All things considered, come draft day, he's really positioning himself well to be the program's second top-10 pick, behind Quinton Byfield.


What else are we seeing with this group? Well, for starters, it's a testament to the strength of the Ontario crop. You'd have to go back to probably the 96's to find a year so littered with Ontario talent as Antonio Stranges and dual-citizen Dylan Peterson are the lone American entries into this group.


That's not to say this is a tier in and of itself, though. As you work your way from 11 onwards, there's a number of players that have all made their own case to factor into one of these slots, and you'd be naive not to think that OHL teams aren't going to have a number of different takes on how this group shapes up on their own respective lists.


Another interesting storyline? We're seeing that Steven Stamkos/Michael Del Zotto battle redux in the form of Quinton Byfield and Jamie Drysdale. While we'd stake our claim to the high-scoring pivot, it would be far from a shock if a number of teams are coveting the Marlboros' captain as their top-ranked player.



| Are they in, or out? |


Until they officially get clearance, that question is going to hang over the heads of Andrei Bakanov and Daniil Chayka, as the two Russian-born players are huge factors in the draft if they get in. Typically the OHL will make that determination around the OHL Cup, or perhaps just before, but a lot of how this draft plays out hangs in the balance of that decision.


With a previous track-record of Russians getting in, see: Kirill Nizhnikov, Nikita Korostelev, Pavel Gogolev, etc. you'd have to think the odds of both of these players receiving their clearance is strong. With the OHL - for now - losing out on last year's top-prize, Jack Hughes, the league is likely going to do everything they can to ensure these top talents ply their trade in the league.


With Bakanov, you can look to the success of a player like Arthur Kaliyev ('01) and, perhaps, dream bigger, as the hulking Russian winger projects to have an even higher ceiling, even if he doesn't accrue the same type of numbers at age 16. You can also get excited about Chayka, as the offensive-minded defenseman is a pro-style prospect who could very well be seeing NHL minutes by 19 if it all goes according to plan.



| A draft to build around |


It's widely accepted that if you want to have sustained success in the OHL, you need to be able to acquire at least two or three core pieces from each draft. We're talking about legitimate top-6 forwards, and top-4 defenseman; and the rule of thumb is that if you can get five or six OHL players in total, you've done well. Do that in back-to-back drafts? You've got a recipe that'll give you something like the current roster composition of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds or some of the London Knights teams of recent years.


Now, with that being said, it's also fairly widely accepted that in order to achieve those results, you need to be able to supplement your haul with at least one or two American-born players on your roster. We're not going to bog you down in the numbers, but take a look at the OHL standings, take into account the disparity from West to East, and then look at which Conference has by far more impact American players.


This trend has typically really hurt teams like Sudbury, North Bay, and the like; teams that you'll see picking high again in the OHL Priority Selection. Luckily, if you're a fan of those teams, you're probably going to be in luck this year; as this is a rare year where you might be able to hit a home run draft in Ontario, alone.


That theme from the top-10 continues throughout the crop as the depth in Ontario is at such a level that if you have multiple top-60 picks, you could very well wind up with a lot of top-end contributors in two or three years.


Obviously, you need to make those picks count, but this is a draft crop that doesn't have a typical drop-off once you work your way out of the top couple tiers of players.



| Hope for Ontario |


It's a storyline that hasn't got a ton of publicity, especially with the Canadian World Junior gold medal, but if you look around the NHL ranks and into the pipeline, you'll notice that the '98-'01 birth-years aren't shaping up to be all that fruitful for Ontario players, in terms of high-end NHL prospects. Of note, the 17/18 NHL season is the first time since 13/14 that an Ontario 18-year-old hasn't stuck around on an NHL roster for the season.


Yes, there will be guys that enjoy prolonged careers. And yes, there's going to be some guys who develop into core pieces, or perhaps surprise as something a little bit more. But on the heels of an era that produced names like Tavares, Stamkos, McDavid and the like, there's clearly been a downward shift of late in that trend.


The 02's could very well buck that trend, and as much as teams at this level will be excited for what they can yield in the OHL Priority Selection, when you look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft, expect the league to churn out a number of picks in the top-62.



| Finishing thoughts |


Prior to our Final Top 200, the always anticipated NTDP Selection camp will take place in Plymouth. We've discussed it before, but this year's American crop is far more volatile than the 01's were, which makes picking this team much more difficult to project. We've mentioned names like Stranges, Smilanic, Peterson, and Yoder as guys who should be locks for the team, but the competition really heats up after that in what's shaping up to be a pretty wide-open field.


While OHL eyes are generally affixed on the OHL Cup at that time, the storylines that play out at the NTDP Selection Camp should have some implications as USHL teams need to ramp up their tender process while those in the OHL will start to test the waters to see who might all of the sudden have a little more interest in the major junior route than they otherwise would have.


And on the American note, we've got a couple more trips planned state-side, which is highlighted for us by the New York State Championships in March, which should feature a very strong field. Unfortunately it doesn't look like the 2018 USA Hockey National Championships in Philadelphia are in the cards for us, but one of the key areas for us to address prior to our final ranking is accruing some views of the American players we've still tagged with a Limited Viewing (LV) designation for now.


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