The New Jersey Devils had 3 forward prospects compete in the Ontario Hockey League last season. This group includes 2016 1st round pick Michael McLeod, 2017 5th round pick Marian Studenic, and 2018 6th round selection Mitchell Hoelscher. Both McLeod and Studenic are joining the professional ranks for this upcoming season while Hoelscher will be further developing his skills in the OHL for another 2 seasons. Today, we will interview OHL expert Brock Otten so we can learn more about these players and where they are at from a developmental standpoint.
First, I want to thank Brock for once again taking the time to answer these questions. He has done this for us numerous times in past and it is greatly appreciated. As some of you are aware, Brock runs the site OHL Prospects which is a fantastic source of information on the prospects playing in the league as well as everything surrounding the league. I highly recommend checking it out year round to stay up to date on the league. You can also follow him on twitter (@BrockOtten) for info and analysis. Now let’s get Brock’s opinion on the Devils OHL prospects.
AAtJ: Before we jump into the Devils prospects, I wanted to ask you how you got started with OHL Prospects? What has it been like to build it up over the years into a great and accessible source of information on OHL prospects?
Brock Otten: Believe it or not, we’re coming up on the 10 year mark for OHL prospects (December 20th). Basically, when I was in high school, I covered the OHL for HockeysFuture because I was applying to Universities for journalism and needed it for my portfolio. I had always had an interest in junior hockey and “hockey prospects,” so it seemed like a natural fit to jump into. But instead of going to school for journalism, I changed my mind and went for education. While in University, the IceDogs moved from Mississauga to Niagara (where I was living for school), and I used some previously made contacts to get back into covering the league as a side deal, because my passion for writing/scouting was obviously still strong. Ten years later, it’s still going strong.
C Michael McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads)
AAtJ: Last year you mentioned to us that you felt some areas of McLeod’s game were NHL ready - his speed, energy, physicality, and defensive awareness - but that his offensive game still had some room for improvement. Do you feel that McLeod was able to improve his offensive capabilities to the necessary level to compete in the NHL this upcoming season?
Brock Otten: As you mentioned, last year when we talked I told you that I felt many parts of McLeod’s game were NHL ready and that he could easily take a spot on a 3rd/4th line and find success. But I felt that going back to the OHL could give him the opportunity to grow more as an offensive player. If the Devils had kept him in the NHL, I felt that it would have stagnated his development as an offensive player. I guess the million dollar question is (and the one you asked in a roundabout way), did McLeod improve as a player this year; did he improve his NHL potential? Quite frankly, I’m not sure he did. Not meant to be a slight, but I think at this point what we see is what he get with McLeod. His goal scoring ability and shooting ability remain only average. His creativity and overall puck skill; the same. He is going to be an NHL player, perhaps even as early as next year. But the one we see now isn’t all that different from the one we saw last year at this time.
AAtJ: How would you characterize McLeod’s overall development since he entered the OHL in 2014-15?
Brock Otten: The big jump for Mikey was in that second year in the league, where he was able to take hold of a key offensive role and emerge as a top line talent in the OHL (the year the Devils drafted him). Then in his draft +1 year, we saw him gain a ton of confidence in his ability to create through possession, exhibiting more poise and patience in the offensive. We also saw him become more aggressive in using his speed to attack, showcasing an ability to play the game at a high pace. This was capped off by an excellent playoff performance, getting the Steelheads deep. This year, I think it was more status quo; a plateau sort of speak.
AAtJ: In your opinion, what is a realistic expectation for McLeod as a NHL player?
Brock Otten: At this point, I see McLeod being a solid #3 center, who can jump up as a #2 if needed because of injuries. He’ll also be a star on the penalty kill and a potential leader in the dressing room. Could see him developing into a steady 35-40 point player. An Andrew Cogliano type of player.
RW Marian Studenic (Hamilton Bulldogs)
AAtJ: Did you see enough growth in Studenic’s offensive game from his rookie season in 2017-18 to last season to view him as a legitimate NHL prospect?
Brock Otten: While I would still classify Studenic as a long shot prospect, I think I saw enough growth in his game to view him as a potential NHL player down the line, something I might not have said last year. He excels in transition with his ability to skate the puck up ice and carve up the neutral zone. We saw huge growth in his game away from the puck, especially as a three zone player. Was utilized on the penalty kill, where his speed plays well on the forecheck. Studenic was much less of a perimeter player this season. I think this growth was critical because I don’t see him as naturally talented offensively to be a reliable scorer at the next level. He’s not a natural goal scorer; doesn’t possess those instincts. And I don’t see him being a tremendous asset below the hash marks at the NHL level. But, he can be a high energy, change of pace in the bottom six, who can bring energy in all three zones and help get pucks in deep.
AAtJ: On this blog, I commented at various points during last season that Studenic seemed to excel in transition when it came to zone entries/exits. What is your opinion of his game in these areas and do you think it’s based off of his real talent or the system that Hamilton ran last season?
Brock Otten: I think you hit the nail on the head. As I mentioned in my response to the previous question, Studenic’s ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone to gain entry to the offensive zone, is without question his best asset. He’s terrific at protecting the puck at full speed, and has great edge work to allow him to be illusive; slippery if you will. Hamilton relied on this (along with guys like Ryan Moore, Will Bitten, Robert Thomas, etc) to play at a high pace and keep the pressure on the opposition offensively.
AAtJ: It’s likely that Studenic will be with the Devils AHL team in Binghamton next season, do you think he’s ready for that challenge?
Brock Otten: Yeah, I think he’ll be capable of playing on Binghamton’s 3rd or 4th line, which it looks like they’ll need him to do. He can probably play on the penalty kill too. I wouldn’t expect a ton from him offensively, but if he can get into the lineup every day, bring some energy and end up with 20 or so points on the year, that would be a successful first pro season for him.
C Mitchell Hoelscher (Ottawa 67’s)
AAtJ: You mentioned on your site that Hoelscher really came into his own later on in the season for Ottawa and was a “well rounded player” even when the points weren’t there. What do you view as his strengths? What areas of his game do you think he needs to improve on most?
Brock Otten: I think Hoelscher is an extremely intelligent player in all three zones. Has a really good head for the game away from the puck. Has a really good stick in the neutral zone and is excellent at anticipating plays on the backcheck. His effort level is always consistent in this regard, and as he gets stronger, he could develop into one of the premier two-way forwards in the OHL. With that hockey sense also comes good vision in the offensive end. Patient and poised with the puck, he can create coming off the wall or off the rush. Second half, we saw him really gain confidence in his ability to carry the puck and make skilled plays. We also saw him be more aggressive in attacking the net, playing less on the perimeter. Developing his shot and improving his strength are the keys moving forward. Adding a more dynamic skating element would help him too. This is a kid who, I think, could see his development path taking many different possible paths. I don’t know if we know what he’s truly capable of offensively.
AAtJ: I’ve read praise for his hockey sense and penalty killing abilities on your site and elsewhere. Do you think his these specific skills could be enough to carry him into a role in the NHL someday?
Brock Otten: Absolutely. Right now, these are his best assets. The old adage is….you can’t really teach hockey sense. You can improve your understanding of how to play certain situations, but being able to make split second decisions, I feel that is, to a certain degree innate. As I mentioned, as he gains strength, gets quicker, etc, I see him really developing into an elite two-way forward. And that alone could lead him into a potential NHL role in the future. Let’s see how much his game develops as an offensive player, because as I said, I could see him developing into the type of kid who becomes a quality two-way 2nd line center, or I could see his development stagnating and him being a no-sign, with everything possible in the middle. Of all the guys drafted out of the OHL this year, outside of maybe Liam Foudy, I feel like Hoelscher might be the one who is just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of.
AAtJ: You also mentioned on your site that Ottawa is likely going to be a “crazy good” over the next two seasons. How do you see Hoelscher fitting into that line up?
Brock Otten: Yeah, the 67’s have one of the best young line-ups in the OHL right now. All they are really missing is an elite goaltender to take them to that next level. I could see them as Eastern Conference powerhouses as early as next season and potential Memorial Cup contenders the year after. Hoelscher likely slots in as the team’s 3rd line center next year, especially if highly touted 2020 NHL draft prospect Marco Rossi crosses the pond to play for Ottawa. He’ll be flanked by some quality wingers as Ottawa’s depth is three lines strong, so his numbers should most definitely improve. But the big jump will likely come in his draft +2 year. By then, he’ll be playing a top line role with heavy powerplay minutes (if his development goes as I think it will) on a potential Memorial Cup contender.
Once again I want to thank Brock for providing us with all of this information on the Devils OHL prospects. Be sure to check out OHL Prospects to stay in the loop on everything going on with the OHL. Now, I want to hear your opinions on McLeod, Studenic, and Hoelscher. Has this interview changed your opinion on any of these players? Which of the answers really stood out to you? What are your expectations for these players going forward? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!