The new season is upon us with ‘AAA’ tournaments, the GOJHL schedule, and PJHL preseason well underway.
Although some players have yet to land, and a few question marks still exist, here is a first crack at our 2017-2018 rankings. The Dresden Kings have yet to announce a 16-year-old card, and the Lambton and Windsor ‘AAA’ rosters are still forming.
Why do we mention this? Because where you play during key development seasons does make a difference, and in part, plays a role in a preseason list like this.
We are also carefully watching the Chatham Maroons roster, where several local 2000 born players signed this summer. It would be a surprise to see them all stay with Chatham as the season progresses, but the local team Chatham is building is exciting to see.
So here goes, here is our list to open the year.
20. Watch list – Seth Henderson, Noah Labonte, and Chase Henry are instant contenders to climb our list quickly after making the Chatham Maroons out of training camp. Each were committed to Junior C teams, and could end up there if Chatham loads up, but they also have the unique opportunity to play games early, and earn their spot in the GOJHL. Nolan DeKoning will be with Lambton’s Major Midget ‘AAA’ program, a good spot for development as a young goalie Aidan Lachine, Evan Wells, and Cameron Welch are all committed to Windsor’s Major Midget ‘AAA’, leaving Cole MacKinnon, Connor Wright, and Malcolm Campbell as wildcards who all had good Junior preseasons. Garrette Stonefish took an alternative route, heading to the USA for the season. Colton Shoemaker has the chance to move to Junior B during the season from the Blenheim Blades. A look at the younger players, Craig Spence will have a lot of OHL draft chatter, as will Tate Bowden, with still others, such as Brett Brochu, Ben Brooks, and Addy Stubberfield, getting looks.
19. Lucas Fancy – (Blenheim Blades, PJHL) – 2001 – Chatham – Small and skilled. He was outscored by players in ‘AAA’ last season who didn’t grab a Junior C spot. He can be slippery, but will have to fight for ice against a strong veteran Blades forward corps. How much ice time he gets will obviously help or hinder his development, as will the skill of player he gets to skate along side. A solid bet to grab a spot with the Maroons next year.
18. Bailey Smith – (Wallaceburg Lakers, PJHL) – 2001 – Chatham – Good size, and an intelligent player. Smith is not a flashy defender, but he gets the job done. He will play a ton in Wallaceburg, and likely spend more time in his own end competing with opposing forwards than he’d like. Smith projects as one of the best defenders on the Lakers, and could be their top D by seasons end. Should get special teams time immediately. Will need to stay mentally strong in what will be a tough season for the boys in green.
17. Bryar Dittmer – (Lambton Jr. Sting, AAA) – 2001 – Chatham – A good skater, with strong puck skills, Dittmer chose the Major Midget ‘AAA’ route over Junior C this year. It’s a strong development path, getting better as more players are committing to the OHL directly out of Major Midget, and the majority of the remaining players commit directly to Junior B or Tier II teams. Dittmer had a decent showing with the Strathroy Rockets in the preseason, and will undoubtedly see some Junior B time as a call up this season, another perk of the Major Midget route.
16. Levi Tetrault – (Guelph Storm, OHL) – 1998 – Pain Court – Tetrault needs to get off to a strong start, and stay healthy. He’s middled on the Guelph roster for multiple seasons now. He’s always been a model of consistency since his days captaining the Chatham-Kent Cyclones, but now finds himself fighting to stay with the Storm. If he stumbles, he could have to take an alternative step like Pataki. No player on this list however, has more character, a trait any organization can value, than Tetrault.
15. Eric Carter – (Chatham Maroons, GOJHL) – 2000 – Ridgetown – After a good year with Dresden, Carter will look to build on that in Junior B. He needs to continue to assert himself in the dirty areas on the ice like he showed in the second half of last season. With Chatham losing multiple top forwards, the door is open for Carter to grab a scoring role as the season moves on.
14. Alec DeKoning – (Sarnia Legionnaires, GOJHL) – 1998 – Wallaceburg – He’s an elite GOJHL talent. At this point, it looks like he’ll have the opportunity to follow many GOJHL players into the OUA, or an NCAA D3 opportunity. He threatens opponents every night with his puck skills, and ability to think the game quicker than opposing defenders.13. Thomas Michaud – (Chatham Maroons, GOJHL) – 2000 – Charing Cross – A product of a dominant Major Midget ‘AAA’ team in Windsor last year, Michaud will likely take a scoring line role with the Chatham Maroons immediately. He’s on the smaller side, but has an excellent skill set, and a strong hockey IQ. He will be a dangerous Junior B player in the near future.
12. Dylan Schives – (Chatham, Maroons, GOJHL) – 2001 – Tilbury – Came out of nowhere to steal a coveted roster spot that historically belongs to OHL draft picks. Schives will have to learn the Junior game quickly, and compensate for his size with the skill set, which made him enticing to Chatham in the first place. He’ll develop into an excellent Junior hockey player, and coach Ron Horvat will be patient with his prospect.
11. Nolan Gardiner – (Ottawa 67s, OHL) – 1998 – Tilbury – A darkhorse at every level, Gardiner’s rookie OHL numbers didn’t solidify his place as a scoring threat. He is known, however, for the intangibles he brings to the ice. Gardiner projects as a good USports player in a few seasons, but he still has time to grow into a pro player.
10. Grant Spence – (Chatham Maroons, GOJHL) – 2000 – Chatham – Spence should have been playing Junior B last year, and now is his chance to prove that is true. With some scoring departures, Spence should have the opportunity to contribute immediately, and hopefully earn recognition from the Oshawa Generals, the team which drafted him two seasons ago. Good size, and a player who wants to be at the next level, had a strong preseason.
9. Evan DeBrouwer – (Prince George Spruce Kings, BCHL) – 1997 – Blenheim – It’s late in a Junior career to get a DI commitment for DeBrouwer, but he’s destined to play college hockey on one side of the border or the other. At the same time, goalies often take longer and stranger developmental paths. He’s succeeded everywhere he’s went. We expect nothing but strong numbers and resume padding from Blenheim’s DeBrouwer again this year.
8. Brady Pataki – (Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL) – 1998 – Wallaceburg – A fresh opportunity, a second chance. Pataki goes from a powerhouse organization in London, to a struggling team in Moncton, which means the door will be open. A big framed, powerful player, Pataki had NHL draft hype coming into the OHL, now is his time to prove that the situation just hasn’t been right. We love a redemption story, and we’re hoping Pataki moves up, not down this list.
7. Brendan Harrogate – (Mississauga Steelheads, OHL) – 1998 – Chatham – Much like Trent Fox ahead of him, Harrogate will have several elite NHL prospects to work with in Mississauga. The challenge is to carve out a role alongside these players, not behind these players. Harrogate has shown progression in each of his two OHL seasons, and another step up would make sense.
6. Ross Krieger – (North York Rangers, OJHL) – 1998 – Pain Court – Krieger will be counted on to put up big numbers this season with North York. His on ice intelligence is elite, and now, with a team that has faith in him, he’s primed for a major campaign. Will an NCAA DI team come knocking? The clock it ticking on that goal, but he had a big preseason to get things rolling.
5. Lucas Vanroboys – (Nanaimo Clippers, BCHL) – 1999 Thamesville – Size was his biggest hit, but a growth spurt pushing Vanroboys to 6′, will allow him to compete against the best Junior A players in Canada. The BCHL is Canada’s premiere league for developing and advancing NCAA players. Coming from a heralded Selects prep program, this is a big season for the Thamesville product.
4. Trent Fox – (Mississauga Steelheads, OHL) – 1997 – Thamesville– We moved Trent Fox up this list with a prediction of familial tradition. His older brother Dane had a breakout overage season, and we’re watching to see if Trent can do the same. He has all the tools, the size, and the opportunity on a powerhouse Mississauga team (much like Dane had with Erie). Will it be deja vu? We’re about to find out.
3. Joseph Raaymakers – (??, OHL) – 1998 – Chatham – After visiting another NHL camp this offseason, Raaymakers finds himself without an OHL home after requesting a trade from the Soo Greyhounds, rather than battle it out with another high NHL draft pick in the Soo net. His goalie partner, Matt Villalta went 72nd overall in the NHL draft, and will undoubtedly be looked upon as the Soo’s defacto starter moving forward. Time is ticking, or Joe will slide down this list. He needs the right opportunity.
2. James McEwan – (Guelph Storm, OHL) – 1997 – Chatham – McEwan had a dip in production while dealing with injuries last season, but we expect him to have a big offensive season, on what is a much improved Guelph team. He’ll have offensive weapons to work with, and hopefully he gets the chance to showcase his pro level shot more often. An injury free season would go a long way to a pro advancement.
1. Grayson Ladd – (Kitchener Rangers, OHL) – 2001 – Kent Bridge – Did well at the Canada U17 tryouts this summer, showing he’s a legitimate top tier prospect. Expectations will be very high for the 13th overall pick in this year’s OHL draft. Ladd is with one of the OHL’s best franchises. They know how to develop, and that’s good news for the young defensemen, who like all rookies, will take time to adapt to the OHL game. We expect big things from this prospect.