Five Ontario Hockey League Players to Watch in 2012

Photo courtesy of OHL Images

By Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell)

Every year there are several players in the Ontario Hockey League that rise above all expectations in terms of production and on ice success.

Some breakouts, so to speak, are easier to predict — while others come from out of the blue. In this article I take a closer look at five OHL players who I think are poised for bigger and better things this year; all of which were drafted in the 2012 NHL entry draft.

Scott Laughton

Position: Center

Draft position: 20th overall, Philadelphia

OHL team: Oshawa Generals

After filling the net just three times and recording only 12 points in his first 25 games of the 2011-12 campaign, Laughton took a huge step forward offensively in the second half of the season. Laughton was always defensively responsible, but he started to show he could contribute offensively, too, and because of that he was relied upon more heavily by the Generals coaching staff in offensive situations. Laughton rewarded the coaching staff’s faith in him with his play as he registered 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in the final 39 games of the season while still playing a defensively responsible game and bringing the physical edge he is capable of.

Unless something very unforeseen occurs, Nicklas Jensen is expected to leave the Generals to head to the Swedish Elite League for a tougher level of competition. With Jensen gone and New York Rangers prospect Christian Thomas expected to make the jump to the AHL, Laughton will be relied upon more offensively this season than ever before.

Laughton showed down the stretch last year that he can produce offensively when given the opportunity, and he will be expected to do so in Oshawa this year. I think he will and I expect big things from him in Oshawa this season. That is assuming he doesn’t make the Flyers roster out of camp – if there is a season, of course.

Oscar Dansk

Position: Goaltender

Draft position: 31st overall, Columbus

OHL team: Erie Otters

The Swedish native is expected to play a large role in turning around the fortunes of the Otters this season. Their defense core is more experienced and will be much better than last season. It’s also worth noting that they have 15-year old phenom Connor McDavid joining the ranks to help add some offensive punch up front, too.

If Dansk can give them quality goaltending night-in night-out, which he is certainly capable of doing, he should pick up quite a few wins and quite possibly push the Otters to the playoffs. I expect big things from Dansk this season and I feel he can and will live up to expectations.

Matt Murray

Draft position: 83rd overall, Pittsburgh

Position: Goaltender

OHL team: Soo Greyhounds

Murray is perhaps the easiest player of those listed to predict a major breakout for. He has all the talent to become one of the better goaltenders in the OHL, but last season he couldn’t take the next step to becoming one because of the crowded crease in Sault Ste. Marie. With Dallas Stars prospect Jack Campbell leaving the Greyhounds to make the jump to the AHL and play with the Texas Stars, it is now Murray’s net.

With more starts and an improved team in front of Murray, this should be a huge developmental season for him. If he can stay healthy and play up to his potential, he shouldn’t have any problems getting the Greyhounds back in the playoffs.

Jesse Graham

Position: Defense

Draft position: 155th overall, New York (Islanders)

OHL team: Niagara Ice Dogs

From the first time I saw Graham play on the Ice Dogs, I liked his game. His defensive zone play can be suspect at times and can definitely use some work, but he has all the tools needed to become a good defenseman. He can skate, he can pass, he can shoot and he’s a very smart player.

With Dougie Hamilton all but a lock to make the jump to the Boston Bruins this season, if there is a season, and Dallas Stars prospect Jamie Oleksiak expected to turn pro and play in the AHL with Texas, Graham will surely eat up some of the many minutes Hamilton and Oleksiak will leave behind. There will be more opportunity for Graham to grow defensively, and he’ll certainly be put in more offensive situations, as well.

All Graham needs to succeed is playing time, and he’s going to get a lot more of it. I would not be the least bit surprised if he tallied over 50 points with the Ice Dogs this season.

Nick Ebert

Position: Defense

Draft position: 211th overall, Los Angeles

OHL team: Windsor Spitfires

Before last season started almost every media outlet and scouting service had Ebert labeled as a first rounder. Some poor defensive play, mental lapses and lofty expectations hindered him all season and because of that he didn’t come close to having the year he is capable of. While, as previously stated, he had nowhere close to the year he was hoping for or expected, he did put up a respectable 39 points in 66 games which was good enough to earn a selection as the final pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

Ebert recorded 41 points the year before last (his rookie year) with Windsor so the potential for more is certainly there. With lesser expectations, a clean mindset that comes with the start of a new season and an upgraded supporting cast up front, there’s no reason to believe that Ebert can’t or won’t put up big numbers this season. If he stays healthy, focused and  can keep his mind right, I think he could break 50 points this year.

Honorable mentions: Daniil Zharkov, Belleville Bulls (Edmonton), Ben Johnson, Windsor Spitfires (New Jersey), Connor Brown, Erie Otters – (Toronto).

Follow me on twitter @ToddCordell

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