A few weeks ago I talked to Cody Nickolet of WHL From Above about NYR prospects in the WHL, and it went very well. So, I decided to get in touch with Brock Otten, who closely follows the Ontario Hockey League and writes a blog aptly called OHL Prospects. He is reviewing how each NHL team’s prospects did in the OHL the previous season, and while his Rangers review is very good, I felt it would be great to speak to him and get a more in-depth look at our prospects in the OHL. Keep reading to see Otten’s intelligent analysis of JT Miller, Christian Thomas, Andrew Yogan, and Peter Ceresnak.
Adam: There is a contingent of Rangers fans who think that JT Miller will challenge for a spot on the NHL roster during the upcoming training camp. How realistic do you think that is?
Brock: It is of my opinion that a prospect should first dominate the league he’s in, before he moves up to the next level. And while I loved what I saw from Miller this year (he certainly had a good year), I don’t think it’d be smart to have him move on from the OHL quite yet. Is he ready to make a contribution? Yeah, probably. He’s a strong enough away from the puck to at least play an energy type role. He certainly wouldn’t hurt you. But is that what you want out of a first round pick? Sending him back to Plymouth would give him a chance to really improve his offensive skills; a situation where he’d be getting top line ice time. If he’s back in Plymouth, he could post a 40-40 season. If he’s in the NHL, or even the AHL, I don’t think he gets that much responsibility. Also, give thought to the fact that he’s only one year removed from his first full scheduled season. How will he hold up to playing 82 games next year? It does seem realistic that the Rangers would like Miller to play pro next year though, even though I don’t agree with the decision. What’s the rush?
Adam: Miller has stated he would like to go pro after one OHL season and the Rangers have him signed to a contract. Should he not make the NHL roster, do you believe his development would be better served with the Plymouth Whalers or in the AHL?
Brock: I sort of answered this one on the previous question, but I’ll try to elaborate a bit more. If he’s playing in the AHL, I’m just not sure he’s ready to take on a top 6 role. So if he’s playing on the third line, is that really helping the development of his offensive game? Compared to returning to Plymouth where he’ll be playing top line minutes, the PP, the PK, and possibly even wearing a letter? All this for a team that could be a Memorial Cup contender. Again, a player should dominate the league he’s in before he moves up and Miller hasn’t done that yet. For every guy like the Avs Ryan O’Reilly, who was rushed but it worked out, is a guy like Rico Fata, who was rushed and it ultimately stunted his development.
Adam: Miller has played both wing and center while with the Plymouth Whalers. Which position do you believe he will ultimately find his niche in as a pro?
Brock: He looks comfortable at either center or wing, so I think it’ll depend where the Rangers feel they need him most. When he plays the wing, he seems a bit more aggressive physically and on the forecheck. When he plays center, he’s a bit more reserved and patient. He’s a well rounded offensive player, so it’s hard to say. I think it’s pretty easy to argue that if you’ve got a guy who can play center, you probably want him to develop there because a great center is harder to find than a great winger. Definitely a toss up.
Adam: What do you make of Christian Thomas’ underwhelming season, a year removed from 55 goals and 99 points?
Brock: Thomas had a bad season, no question. It wasn’t just Thomas, it was nearly the entire Generals team. They were projected to possibly win their Conference, and they barely squeaked into the playoffs. It really looked like a lot of the guys on that team, didn’t really want to be there. And Thomas was one of those IMO. His intensity and effort level away from the puck definitely took a hit this year. If he’s not bringing a ton of energy and fighting for every loose puck, he’s not as effective. You can’t just stand around waiting for things to happen. This is especially true when you’ve got Thomas’ talent level.
Adam: Size is obviously one of the first things mentioned about Thomas. How much do you think smaller stature will hold him back?
Brock: I don’t think size is an issue for him. He’s very strong and very quick. When he’s on his game, he’s consistently beating out bigger players for loose pucks, or beating them to the net. At first, he might have a bit of a tough time trying to create space to get his shot off, but as he continues to add bulk, I don’t see it being an issue. It’s not as if he’s a perimeter player.
Adam: Guys like Stamkos, St. Louis, Kessel, and Vanek are all nothing special defensively or away from the puck but get away with it because of elite offensive instincts. Is Christian Thomas in the same boat? Or are are his offensive abilities alone not enough to get him by?
Brock: His goal scoring abilities are certainly good enough to get him by. The quality of his shot, and his instincts are top notch. But, at the same time, if he’s not bringing a ton of energy to the ice away from the puck, he’s not nearly as effective as a player. I don’t know if he’ll ever develop into a terrific three zone player, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective on the forecheck or along the boards. In fact, I’d say he needs to be.
Adam: Andrew Yogan is one of the Rangers’ more intriguing prospects. Where is he in his development right now?
Brock: Yogan had a great year. He was able to stay healthy, which was huge. He was also given the opportunity to be the go to guy on a team offensively, and he took off with that. His confidence with the puck was at an all time high. For the first time, he consistently used his size to his advantage, especially in taking the puck hard to the net. Everything really came together for him and it looks like he’s got himself back on the right track as a prospect.
Adam: I’ve seen some highlight reel goals from Yogan but also streaks of games where he was ineffective. How much is he fighting consistency issues?
Brock: This year, Yogan was consistent. As I said, for the first time really, he was able to make an impact with his size consistently. Before, if he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t nearly as visible because his play away from the puck wavered. This year, he was fully engaged without the puck, upped his physical intensity and as a result became a very difficult player for the opposition to contain. It was a case of creating his own offense, rather than being passive. Every time I saw Peterborough play this year (~4-5 times), Yogan was one of the better players on the ice.
Adam: Yogan has the rare gift of size and skill, but we saw Evgeny Grachev dominate the OHL only to fade away against bigger, more talented competition in the pros. Can Yogan produce when he’s no longer playing against 17 and 18 year olds?
Brock: That’s the million dollar question. This year, Yogan will be near the bottom of the totem pole again. How will he react to that? He’s going to have to continue to make an impact even when he’s not scoring, by being physical and working the boards, just like he did in the OHL this year. As long as he carries over what he learned in his overage year, I think he’ll be fine in the long run. I do think he could struggle a bit offensively this year though, as he adjusts to the speed and size of the pro game. He won’t be able to manhandle AHL defenseman the way he did OHL defenseman. It’ll be yet another learning curve for him to go through. But I do think he’ll be fine in the long run.
Adam: Peter Ceresnak’s footwork was absolutely brutal when Rangers fans saw him at Traverse City. How far along has he come in that regard?
Brock: Ceresnak still isn’t a terrific skater. He’s a pretty basic player. Definitely not flashy. He is relatively effective defensively though, but could stand to be more physical and use his size. At the OHL level, his skating doesn’t hurt him a lot because he doesn’t take a lot of chances with the puck, or in the defensive end. He’s definitely a positional defender. But at the next level, the speed of the game would definitely eat him up if he doesn’t make improvements in his mobility (and puck skill in his own end).
Adam: How well does he use his size?
Brock: Not that well. He’s not a consistently physical guy, which is disappointing considering the size advantage he has. As I said, he’s more of a positional defender who’s happy using his stick off the rush and in the corners. In order to take that next step as a stay at home guy, he’ll definitely need to become more aggressive, as his offensive game isn’t strong enough to carry him forward.
Much thanks to Brock for taking time to talk to me. Make sure to visit his website because there is some fantastic information there. Now a few of my thoughts.
– While JT Miller is definitely more polished than most players his age, I’ve been very uneasy with all the fanbase discussion of Miller playing at the NHL level this October. And Brock solidifies that for me. While I’m less insistant on him playing another year at the OHL level than Brock is, I agree that another year in the OHL where he can be an elite player would not be the worst thing for his development. I dodo think he will be playing in the AHL, though.
– Smaller stature is of course a disadvantage but Thomas has been unfairly grouped with guys like Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes. Thomas has that quality (though not at their level yet) that guys like Stamkos and Gaborik have; that is, finding ways to get open. And if he can harness the physical aspects of his game that he has shown he is capable of then the Rangers could have a scary player in a few years.
– Yogan is a player who was once projected to be a second, perhaps even first round pick, but fell to us in the fifth round because of injuries. He is still a project but, as Brock says, it is worth monitoring his play in his first full season as a pro. Yogan has a lot of qualities that Brian Boyle has but with better hands.
– Ceresnak was perhaps the worst Ranger at the Traverse City tournament last season, and while he did have a better OHL season, Brock doesn’t seem very impressed. Granted, Ceresnak gets the benefit of the doubt because it was his first season in a North American hockey rink and because big defensemen usually take a very long time to develop. Still, he’s going to require a good 2012-2013 campaign to receive an pro contract from the Rangers after the season.
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