TORONTO, ONT. -- It started with the Toronto Red Wings tournament way back in September and ended with the USA Hockey National Championships this spring in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yup, after months of hockey on both sides of the border, the '02 age group is officially into the spotlight as they're on the clock for their OHL Draft year.
To cap off what's been - for the most part - a very entertaining season, we've got our Bantam Final Top 200 Ranking available to subscribers. In addition to our top-200, we have several players with a Limited Viewing designation, as well as over 20,000 words of commentary on each of the players included in the ranking.
While the ranking commentary provides some important context throughout, we also wanted to highlight a few of the noteworthy storylines and themes we're noticing thus far with the '02 crop.
There were some tough decisions
In a bit of a contrast to the '01 age group when it was all said and done, there were some real tough decisions putting together our final ranking of the bantam season. As we track players, we use a 'B' designation to roughly correlate to a player who would be valued as a 5th-10th round pick (of course, you're taking Americans at face value and not factoring in NCAA concerns); and a 'C' designation to align with a late-round pick.
In this age group, we ended up with more than a few too many B's, which resulted in a number of players just narrowly missing the cut when it came to the Top 200. What's the takeaway? It's going to be real competitive next season and this draft is on track to provide far more depth as you work your way out of the top two or three rounds.
Strength from the net out
As we take some time to look at this '02 age group with some top-level perspective, there's no real weakness you could point to from a positional stand point. The aforementioned group of goaltenders looks rather promising at this point, and that sentiment is echoed on both forward and defense as both positions have no shortage of high-end players, as well as depth throughout.
Even more importantly, there's some good diversity in terms of players who have nuance to their game and can bring some different elements and roles, which is what you always like to see in any good draft.
Ontario is full of promise
The past few years haven't exactly been banner crops for Ontario, but that may be on track to change this year as the 02's have a real chance at being the best age group to come through the minor midget ranks since the 96's or 97's. Of course it's still early and that could change, but with a fairly established top tier in the crop and a number of players who could realistically make a compelling case to join them next year, things look good on this side of the 49th.
High-end talent in the US
Say what you will about the depth in this year's American crop - as there's certainly a bit of a drop-off relative to their Canadian pals - but the high-end tier is packed with some legitimate next-level players and beyond when it comes to prospects from the US of A.
Having a peak at what else is out there across the rest of the country, it looks like the NTDP could have a really nice crop coming together with this '02 age group as there is not only a good group of USHL/NCAA players here, but there's a number of guys who should develop into legitimate NHL prospects within three years' time.
Oh, and did we mention it's early?
Perhaps more importantly than anything, let's remember that it's still very early. This is a snapshot in time and while many of these players will hold true to their tiers, there will be some who drop off and others who seemingly come out of nowhere.
We're right in the middle of one of the most critical time periods from a physical development standpoint which can always shuffle the deck and change the way things look over the span of just a few months. That player who was 5-foot-6? Maybe he'll be 5-foot-11 in a year and have a completely new lease on life. The player who hit 6-feet early and plateaued? There's always a risk that the physical edge wears off and that advantage is lost.
We'll see what the next year brings, but if it's anything like the last 12 months, OHL and USHL teams should have a lot to be excited about with this age group.