The player taken with the first pick in the NHL Draft has been selected from the Ontario Hockey League five times in the past six years. Could that trend continue at the 2013 NHL Draft?
There's the usual amount of top-end talent skating in the OHL, with an especially high number of offensively gifted forwards.
NHL.com reached out to NHL Central Scouting's top Ontario scout, Chris Edwards, for his opinion on a few of the players who could hear their names called early at June's selection extravaganza at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
In alphabetical order, here is a list of the top 10 prospects skating in the OHL, with Edwards' expert opinion:
"For a guy that really never played at much of a [high] caliber before, he looked like he had it all together. He looked like he had an offensive touch to him. He used his size well. I left Rochester thinking he might be a top forward with a really good skill set. That's what I still think he's going to be." -- Chris Edwards, NHL Central Scouting, on Justin Bailey
Justin Bailey, C, Kitchener -- Bailey returned late last week after missing five games with a concussion he sustained during a game Sept. 27. He was scoreless in three games with four penalty minutes prior to his injury, and it occurred just before Bailey would have skated in the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, a showcase for the top 40 U.S.-born 2013 draft prospects. He also earned an A rating in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings of players to watch for the 2013 NHL Draft.
When he returned, however, he showed why scouts have been so enamored with him. After playing sparingly in his first game Friday, he scored a pair of goals in the Rangers' win Sunday.
Offensive production shouldn't be a problem for the 6-foot-3.25, 194-pound forward, who had 21 goals and 34 points in just 22 games for the Pat LaFontaine-coached Long Island Royals of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League last season.
"He's a big guy, uses his size well," Edwards, who saw Bailey during the summer at a USA Hockey camp in Rochester, N.Y., told NHL.com. "He's got a real good shot and he's able to get it off coming in off the wing. For a guy that really never played at much of a [high] caliber before, he looked like he had it all together. He looked like he had an offensive touch to him. He used his size well. I left Rochester thinking he might be a top forward with a really good skill set. That's what I still think he's going to be."
Cole Cassels, C, Oshawa -- If the last name sounds familiar, it's because his father is 16-year NHL veteran Andrew Cassels. Cole certainly inherited a lot of his father's hockey skills.
On a team stacked with NHL draft picks, Cassels had one goal and five assists in 12 games, but he's done enough to stand out -- he was invited to the CCM/USA All-American Prospects Game in September and is a B-rated skater in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings.
"He's another one of those guys that's a competitor," Edwards said. "I saw him about a week ago and he got better as the game went on. His competitiveness was very good. He fought one of the older guys on Kingston and did very well. He's got good puck-handling abilities, playmaking offensive sense. He's used at the point on the second power-play unit. He's got a real good shot, just needs to take it more. The one night there he tried to get too fancy with it instead of shooting it, but that's something that will come. He skates well. He's another guy that was pretty consistent in the faceoff circle."
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Jason Dickinson, C, Guelph -- In his second OHL season, the 6-1.25, 179-pound forward has developed into a top prospect, as shown by his A rating in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings.Dickinson, who had 35 points in 63 games last season, has seven goals and eight assists in his first 12 games this season. His minus-15 rating in 2011-12 has turned into a plus-11 this season.
"He's a good-size guy, skates very well," Edwards said. "He's a really good competitor. On the penalty kill he's willing to block shots, sacrifice himself, laying out to block shots. He's not just kind of getting in the way hoping it doesn't hit him like some guys do. He gets down and wants to block them. … The night I saw him he was really going to the net hard. He went to the goal, banged in a rebound while fighting off a check. He's a real good competitor with a good skill set."
Max Domi, C, London -- He may be Tie Domi's son, but about the only thing Max shares with his father is a last name and a small stature.
Max, a 5-9.25, 193-pound forward, has 19 points in his first 11 games. He's tied for third in the OHL in scoring, and his 13 assists are second. He jump-started his season with four goals and six assists in five games to help Canada win the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August. An A-rated skater by NHL Central Scouting, Domi had 49 points in 62 games for London last season (Tie's best OHL season was 43 points in 60 games for the Peterborough Petes in 1987-88).
"He's got real good offensive instincts," Edwards said of the younger Domi. "His skill set, his puckhandling ability, his hands -- he can handle the puck forehand and backhand, he can make real good saucer passes both forehand and backhand; that's something you don't see a lot of nowadays. I've seen him get off a real good backhand shot cutting off the wing, something I haven't seen in years. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's willing to get involved and play in traffic."
The only knock on Domi could be his skating speed, but Edwards said he believes the rest of his skill package outweighs any questions in that regard.
"For a guy his size he doesn't have blinding speed," he said. "He's a real good skater but you don't see him pulling away. He's involved and he's got the puck all the time, creating things every shift. He's a dangerous player."
Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth -- After two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program, the 5-11, 187-pound forward opted to sign with the Whalers this season.
Hartman was second on the USNTDP Under-18 team last season with 38 points in 55 games and had six points in six games to help the United States win the gold medal at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
Already this season he was one of two draft-eligible players to survive the first round of cuts at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in August, which could see him earn a spot on the U.S. team for the 2013 World Junior Championship. He also played in the All-American Prospects Game, and earned a B ranking on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list.He has three goals, five assists and 43 penalty minutes in 10 games with Plymouth as he adjusts to the league, but scouts still like what they've seen.
"He's had a pretty good start to the year," Edwards said. "He's a real good skater with real good playmaking ability. I think there he's on the second line, but he's getting lots of ice on the power play. He's going to be a pretty effective guy for Plymouth."
Bo Horvat, C, London -- The 6-foot, 200-pound forward has been scoring nearly equal to his teammate and occasional linemate Domi, with six goals and four assists in 10 games. He already has more than half as many goals as he scored last season, when he had 11 in 64 games.
Like Domi, Horvat got an early start to his season, with four points in five games for Canada at the Hlinka tournament.
"He's a guy that is real aggressive on the forecheck, finishes his checks," Edwards said. "He's a guy that does remind me of [Columbus Blue Jackets prospect] Boone Jenner. He's blocking shots, he's banging away, going to the net, doing all the dirty things to get wins -- a real high-end competitor."
Edwards also said he's been impressed by Horvat's hockey IQ, especially when it came to playing shorthanded.
"On the penalty-kill unit he's always in the shooting lane," he said. "He's real smart that way, blocking the passing lane with his stick. He's quick to jump on guys if they mishandle pucks. He's a real smart guy when it comes to killing penalties."
Ryan Kujawinski, C, Kingston -- The Frontenacs forward has continued to build on a fast start that earned him OHL player of the week honors last month. In 11 games, the 6-1.75, 203-pound forward, who earned a B rating in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings, has three goals and eight assists.
Edwards likes Kujawinski's puckhandling and playmaking skills, but said what really stood out about him is a unique shot he has in his arsenal.
"He's got an unbelievable wrist shot he gets off real quick," Edwards said. "And I've seen him do it a few times now where he sets up and he's looking around and it's almost like a no-look shot. You do that in basketball, where you're looking at somebody and fooling people into thinking he's going to pass it and he just lets go a wrist shot. One night in Oshawa he hit the crossbar once with it and scored another one. I've seen him do it another time at home."
Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa -- The 6-2, 186-pound player could be the most talented all-round forward in the OHL.
Monahan had 33 goals and 78 points for the 67's last season and already has 15 points in his first 11 games. Edwards believes those numbers could be even better if it weren't for Ottawa's struggles this season -- the team is last in the standings with a 3-8-0 record and six points.
"He's had a real good start to the year," Edwards said. "Unfortunately he doesn't have a lot of help down there. His production probably would be quite a bit more if he had somebody who could finish for him. He's a real smart playmaking guy. He gets pucks through traffic, has real good hands, real good play-making ability. He's got an excellent shot, gets it off real quick, gets himself involved in battles for pucks, crashes around. He hardly ever comes off the ice -- he's used in every situation, double- and triple-shifted at times."
Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie -- Central Scouting's highest-rated OHL defenseman in its preliminary rankings, Nurse brings a mix of size (6-3.5, 189 pounds) and skill.
The Greyhounds defenseman had a goal and nine assists in 53 games last season and was named OHL Second-Team All-Rookie, and had a plus-4 rating in seven games with Canada at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship. He's started the 2012-13 season well, playing for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament then totaling 11 points -- tied for seventh among OHL defensemen -- and a plus-6 rating in his first 13 games with Sault Ste. Marie.
"He's just a big, steady guy that doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Edwards said. "He gets the puck and he generally makes a good pass with it. He picks it apart -- what I mean is, he's patient enough that if he can, he skates the puck out of trouble. He makes good stretch passes and if need be he can lug it up ice. A lot of times guys will run themselves out of a play at the blue line but he'll either fire it in or create something. He's a real smart guy, uses his size well, [is] physical and plays with an edge and toughness. He's a good all-round guy."
Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor -- Like Domi, Rychel comes from a strong hockey background -- his father, Warren Rychel, played eight NHL seasons, won a Stanley Cup with the 1996 Colorado Avalanche and now serves as general manager in Windsor.
Though his father was never drafted, Kerby likely won't have to wait long to hear his name called by an NHL team. A 6-1, 200-pound left wing, Rychel tied for seventh in the OHL last season with 41 goals and had a team-high 74 points. He tied for the team lead with five goals in seven games for Canada at the World U-18 Championship, and has started this season with eight goals and three assists in his first 13 OHL games. He earned an A rating in Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list.
"Every shift he plays, he's dangerous," Edwards said. "He competes every shift. He's all over the ice, a real good skater -- speed, agility. You like what you see him in him. … He's got some real good play-making ability and puck skill. He's used in all situations -- power play, penalty kill, four-on-four. He also does a real good job in the faceoff circle."
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