In his third Ontario Hockey League year, forward Kerby Rychel of the Windsor Spitfires inspires comparisons to a young magician mastering a blockbuster routine. The tricks are all worked out, the script is committed to memory, the timing is down -- all that's needed is the extra polish that comes with repetition and practice. Or, in Rychel's case, that supplementary physical edge or added bit of speed that could enhance his game further in the months ahead. Because make no mistake, the young winger is already a very good hockey player.
Slated to go in the first round of the 2013 draft, Rychel has the potential to compete as a power forward in the NHL. Scoring his ninth goal of the season in Friday's 6-4 victory over the Guelph Storm, the 18-year-old is already making up for a somewhat sluggish start to 2012-13. Gifted with good hands, smarts, vision and a knack for finding the back of the net, Rychel is also an imposing presence (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) on a forward line with Brady Vail (Montreal Canadiens, fourth round, 2011) and Chris Marchese.
But maybe not quite imposing enough.
Spitfires GM Warren Rychel (who doubles as Kerby's dad) wants to see more physicality from the young winger.
"It's tough every night in the NHL," the GM said Friday, conceding that his son could be selected in the first round if he continues to work hard. "It's tough physically ... the hard hits I would like to see more of -- that way you leave no doubt what kind of player he is."
Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner seems to be on a similar page, suggesting Rychel could become even more dominating in his own end. While the teen himself wants to play more consistently -- offensively and defensively.
Fortunately, the Tecumseh, Ontario, native has a history of addressing and successfully refining his shortcomings -- major or minor. For instance, after a good deal of persistent effort, Rychel moves around a lot better than before.
"He's put his work in with his skating," the elder Rychel said. "[His] skating has improved after his first year -- even after his second year -- he's getting quicker. ... I think he took it to heart two years ago when he came in the league and people said his skating was awful, he took it personally, and he did a lot about it."
Again, whatever enhancements Rychel makes to his game between now and June would serve as a bonus to an already well-rounded package. That bundle of skill, talent and physical attributes, together with a willingness to work hard, should serve Rychel well in his quest to perform on the greatest stage in hockey for many seasons.
Class of 2013
While Jason Dickinson is pegged to go in the first round in June, fellow Guelph Storm forward Zack Mitchell can't be ruled out as a later selection. Bypassed in the 2012 draft (he was invited to the Winnipeg Jets development camp in July), Mitchell is making great strides in proving last season's 75-point campaign was no fluke. One of the better skaters in Friday's loss to the Spitfires, Mitchell hopes to improve further on his defensive play while remaining a consistently potent offensive threat.
"Obviously NHL teams aren't going to [draft] a player who's a liability in their own end," the 19-year-old said after earning two assists Friday. "So I'm going to continue to try and play both ends of the puck ... be more of a complete player."
It's worth noting Mitchell leads the Storm by a healthy margin in the plus/minus department (plus-12). Enjoying good chemistry with linemate Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg Jets, third round, 2012), Mitchell has seven goals and 10 assists in 15 games to date.
• Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67's is off to a rambunctious start, collecting 22 points in his first 14 games. As it stands, many believe the 18-year-old center could be a top-10 selection once June comes along.
• Nikita Zadorov appears to be fitting in well with the London Knights (4 assists, 18 PIM, plus-nine). The Russian defenseman moves really well for such a big (seriously, he's huge) youngster. NHL teams interested in a D-man of the extra-large variety will be giving Zadorov plenty of attention through the next few months.
• Another potential first-round pick, Ryan Kujawinski is working to build chemistry with new linemate, Samuel Schutt. Kujawinski has a couple of assists since Schutt was traded from the Sudbury Wolves to the Kingston Frontenacs last week.
• Known more for his defensive qualities, blueliner Chris Bigras is wrapping up a fairly productive October for the Owen Sound Attack. After earning 19 points in 2011-12 (49 games), Bigras already has 11 (plus-14) to his credit this campaign.
• Sporting a 3.91 goals-against average and .892 save percentage through only three contests, goaltender Alex Fotinos of the Barrie Colts should hope his game turns around in a hurry. Otherwise the 17-year-old's draft stock will plummet fast. Unfortunately for Fotinos, the Colts are riding the hot hand of Mathias Niederberger at present.
Class of 2014 (and beyond)
The comparisons to Chris Pronger are soundly justified. Hulking 16-year-old Aaron Ekblad has the talent, tools and physical attributes that ring reminiscent of the future Hall of Famer defenseman. Manning the point on the Barrie Colts' top power-play unit, Ekblad deserves recognition for his shot alone. With 12 points to his credit already, the 16-year-old is well on his way to building on last year's total (29).
Notable NHL prospects
• Jordan Binnington (St. Louis Blues, third round, 2011) is the best goaltender in the OHL at present. Sporting a 1.96 goals-against average and .940 (!) save percentage, the Owen Sound Attack netminder is fully deserving of his 9-1 record. Binnington signed an entry-level deal with the Blues last May.
• Cherished more for his defensive play, blueliner Frank Corrado (Vancouver Canucks, fifth round, 2011) collected a goal and six assists in three games for the Sudbury Wolves this past weekend. For his efforts, Corrado has been named OHL player of the week.
• Forward Nick Cousins (Philadelphia Flyers, third round, 2011) leads the OHL with seven goals and 17 assists in 16 contests. The 19-year-old is in his fourth year with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
• Following a year at Ohio's Miami University, power forward Tyler Biggs is adjusting well to the OHL. The prospect (Toronto Maple Leafs, first round, 2011) has already exhibited his fondness for dropping the gloves in support of his fellow Oshawa Generals. And the 13 points -- including eight goals -- through 16 games certainly don't hurt. Playing on a line with elite two-way forward Boone Jenner (Columbus Blue Jackets, second round, 2011), Biggs will continue to be an imposing figure as long as he remains in the "O." Leafs GM Brian Burke & Co. should be pleased
• At the top of the Eastern Conference, the Barrie Colts are off to a rollicking start. And little wonder, considering the abundance of talent and skill up front. While the Colts have enjoyed the bonus presence of Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets, first round, 2011), fellow NHL prospects Anthony Camara (Boston Bruins, third round, 2011) and Andreas Athanasiou (Detroit Red Wings, fourth round, 2012) have also contributed handsomely to an impressive 11-3-1 record. Of the three -- and perhaps taking Scheifele's contributions somewhat for granted -- Camara might be most noteworthy surprise to date. With 18 points through 15 games, the power forward is proving he's more than a just a tough and intimidating presence.
• Winger Tom Wilson (Washington Capitals, first round, 2012) could remain on the shelf for another couple of weeks after breaking his hand on Mitchell Fitzmorris' face. The fight went down a week ago Friday when Wilson's Plymouth Whalers visited the Kingston Frontenacs.
• Center Brendan Gaunce (Vancouver Canucks, first round, 2012) of the Belleville Bulls is expected to miss up to another five weeks with a separated shoulder. Gaunce sustained the injury just over a week ago.
• The Oshawa Generals will have to do without Lucas Lessio (Phoenix Coyotes, second round, 2011) for the next three months. Lessio had surgery on his hand after tendons were cut by a skate blade last week.
• The Generals' Scott Laughton (Philadelphia Flyers, first round, 2012) was suspended 10 games by the OHL for targeting Daniel Walsh's head in a recent tilt with the Ottawa 67's.
• There's word that prospect center Alex Khokhlachev (Boston Bruins, second round, 2011) could return to Windsor in the foreseeable future. Apparently Khokhlachev isn't having too good a time of it in the KHL.
"I'm working on it, I can tell you that," GM Warren Rychel said of bringing the 19-year-old Russian center back into the Spitfires' fold. "It's a happy thought in my mind ... we'll see what happens, as it would be great for our team in a very competitive Western Conference where every point is crucial and any team can beat anybody. I think it would be great for him and I'm working on it."