With the OHL season already underway, it can be easy to forget that many teams’ current rosters are far from a final product. Many OHLers are at NHL camps, looking to crack a roster, or even just earn an entry-level deal. With that in mind, the first Friday Top 5 on AOHL will look at which of those players at NHL camps right now are most likely to crack their pro squads.
Just about every offseason preview of the Toronto Maple Leafs features Marner already on the roster, and with good reason. It is hard to tell the difference between Marner’s achievements and a list of every award in the OHL. After being named a 1st team all-star in 2014-15, the Knights dynamo’s encore included leading the OHL in points, OHL Most Outstanding Player, CHL Player of the Year and then capped it off by winning Memorial Cup MVP en route to a Knights championship. With little left to prove in the OHL, and a Leafs team with plenty of space for younger players, expect Marner to make the cut.
Like Marner, Strome has done just about all there is left to do in the OHL. Two straight 100-point seasons, three straight 50-win seasons with Erie and being named one of Team Canada’s top three players at the last World Junior Championship. The Arizona Coyotes haven’t been shy about playing rookies, giving significant minutes to Max Domi and Anthony Duclair last season, so the door is open for Strome to crack a roster. One thing Strome has working in his favour: size. At 6’3, Strome doesn’t face the same questions that Marner does about his physical ability to handle the wear and tear at the next level.
While he didn’t put up the gaudy numbers of Marner or Strome, Zacha figures to have just as good a shot as they do to make an NHL roster. When Zacha was drafted, his 6’3, 214 pound frame alone made people believe that he was ready for the NHL level, and after scoring at over a point-per-game rate for Sarnia this past season, his skills are ready for the next challenge. The New Jersey Devils aren’t exactly a powerhouse on offence, and could certainly use Zacha for the upcoming season, and after nearly making the squad last year, look for Zacha to stay past the nine game mark this time around.
Are you sensing a trend? The Kingston winger fits the same model as Strome and Zacha as being very physically mature for their age. After an offseason trade that saw his rights traded from the Florida Panthers to the Arizona Coyotes, Crouse sees the same opportunity as Strome does with a team that has not been shy about giving younger players a chance to prove themselves. The major difference for Crouse is that the Coyotes have a couple of options on the wing, meaning Crouse will have to really outplay some veterans for a roster spot. While he will likely never be a top point producer, Crouse fits in as an ideal complementary winger, using his size and big shot to create havoc.
The only 2016 draft pick to make the list, Tkachuk barely edges out teammate Olli Juolevi for the final spot for one reason: his position. With defenders taking longer to adjust to the pros, Tkachuk has a real chance to crack a Calgary Flames team that, in recent years, has given playing time to young OHLers like Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. With Tkachuk having a similar pedigree, a 107-point season under his belt, and the physical way with which he plays the wing position, it will be difficult for the Flames to send him back to London.
London’s Olli Juolevi
Sarnia’s Travis Konecny
Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev