With 61 current roster players having been drafted in 2018 or 2019 by NHL teams, the Ontario Hockey League maintains itself as the largest concentration of future NHL talent in North America.
Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina) and Barrett Hayton (Arizona) were drafted in 2018 from their respective Barrie and Sault Ste. Marie OHL clubs and are already playing full-time in the NHL. National development programs are giving the entire CHL a run for its money, but there remain a plenitude of OHL names that will be cropping up to make their NHL debuts this year or next.
Let’s take a look at some of the brightest drafted OHL players by position and make some unabashedly bold roster projections.
To put it simply, the Kings don’t really stand to lose much if they opt to bring up Arthur Kaliyev this season. Kaliyev was just 17 years old during the entire 2018-2019 season, but put together a monstrous 102-point campaign in 67 games (51 goals and 51 assists). His performance got him drafted 33rd overall by Los Angeles this year, and he’s on pace to have a repeat season for Hamilton. In 19 games so far this season, Kaliyev has a league-leading 21 goals in 20 games. His 38 total points are tied for second place in the OHL. Both Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford will be up for new contracts next summer, but L.A. is probably looking to rejuvenate a struggling roster that’s tied for the worst record in the league. October of 2020 would be an opportune time to introduce Kaliyev to the NHL full time. Kaliyev has yet to sign an ELC.
If the Hurricanes need a boost on offense, 18-year old Jamieson Rees could be their answer. He’s on the smaller end at 5’10 and 171 pounds, but Rees certainly hasn’t let that stop him from cranking out huge numbers. In just 11 games with Sarnia so far this year, Rees has exploded for 24 points and a +13 rating. Carolina may have just gotten away with highway robbery this year, nabbing Rees in the second round of the draft at 44th overall. Rees could be a top candidate to replace Lucas Wallmark- whose contract ends next summer- at the third line center position come October. Rees has not signed an ELC with the Hurricanes yet.
He’s not as prolific a goal scorer as forwards typically come, but Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is still putting up exciting numbers for Peterborough. The 19-year old has already recorded 27 points and a +7 rating in 17 games with the Petes this season, and he is tied for second in the OHL in total assists so far this year at 23. Der-Arguchintsev needs to work on his backcheck, as he’s recorded negative ratings every season since coming to the OHL in 2016-2017. However, he still has potential to claim Toronto’s fourth-line center slot that Nick Shore will likely be vacating next summer. Der-Aguchintsev signed an ELC with the Maple Leafs in September of 2018.
Canadiens’ prospect Cam Hillis is making sure he’s on the map this year in the OHL. With just 16 games under his belt with Guelph so far this year, Hillis has already posted 27 points and a +13 rating. His past two seasons in the OHL have been weak defensively, so Hillis probably won’t be able to crack the lineup in Montreal until he can show improvement on that end. The Canadiens are only killing off 72 percent of their penalties thus far in 2019-2020 (fourth-lowest kill rate in the NHL), so they’re unlikely to take a chance on a rookie who hasn’t shown a lot of defensive prowess. That being said, Hillis could conceivably slot into the center and/or right wing positions that Nick Cousins and Nate Thompson will be vacating this summer. Hillis has not signed an ELC yet.
The Maple Leafs’ second round pick this year is making leaderboards in the OHL for Peterborough. Petes teammates Nick Robertson and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev are each tied for second in league-wide goals (19 for Robertson) and assists (23 for Der-Arguchintsev). Not only that, Robertson has recorded 28 points and a +9 rating in just 17 games this season. Toronto remains strong on offense, so 18-year old Robertson may not see ice time in the NHL until perhaps 2021. He could arrive in 2020 if the Leafs decide to let Ilya Mikheyev (signed to an ELC ending next summer) walk in restricted free agency, but that’s not a very likely scenario. Robertson signed an ELC with Toronto in September.
A Sabres squad that can’t seem to decide if they want to be competitive or not could benefit from an injection of prospect Matej Pekar. Pekar has posted 22 points in 17 games with Barrie so far this season, 13 of them coming from goals. A natural center, Pekar could overtake the anchor positions that struggling Evan Rodrigues and Johan Larsson are in right now, but will likely be leaving as their contracts end next summer. In fact, all except four of Buffalo’s forwards have contracts that end after this season. If the team remains turbulent success-wise, Pekar will start for the Sabres come next October. Pekar signed an ELC in October of 2018.
Jan Jenik and Arthur Kaliyev are two peas in a pod in Hamilton. Jenik’s 33 points and Kaliyev’s 38 points on the season lead the Bulldogs by a very wide margin. Jenik has even played three fewer games than Kaliyev at 17. Kaliyev is more than likely going to debut for the Kings by next season at the latest, and the same is probably true for Jenik with the Coyotes. Drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft by Arizona, the Czech should be considered a top candidate to replace an aging Carl Soderberg when his contract ends next summer. Jenik could also swap around with a young but struggling Lawson Crouse in either a center or left wing slot. Jenik signed an ELC with the Coyotes this past spring.
Soon, Connor McDavid won’t be the only Connor McSomething in the NHL with a highly potent offensive gene. 18-year old Capitals’ prospect Connor McMichael shredded the OHL last year and is on pace to do just about the same this year as well. McMichael recorded 72 points and a +15 rating in 67 regular season games with London in 2018-2019. In just 16 games so far this season, he’s already posted an OHL-leading 41 points and a +15 rating, and is tied for second in the OHL in goals scored at 19. Washington drafted McMichael 25th overall this year, but will likely keep him in London until they can move Nic Dowd or Chandler Stephenson. The Caps are stacked on offense, but they could thrive even more having a young McMichael anchoring a third or fourth line. McMichael signed an entry-level contract with the Caps in July.
One of the many things the Red Wings shouldn’t be picky about this season is who slots in where on defense. Detroit’s defense is, let’s just say, atrocious; they have the most goals against in the league and the worst penalty kill rate as well. So why not give prospect Alec Regula a whirl? Regula isn’t an overly prolific scorer, but he affects an impressive amount of offense as well as strong defense when on the ice. Drafted 67th overall in 2018, Regula vastly improved his pre-draft numbers to 39 points and a +32 rating in 66 games with the 2018-2019 London Knights. In addition, he had six points in 11 playoff games for the Knights last season. Regula is on pace for an even bigger year this season with 15 points and a +15 rating in 14 games so far in London. Veteran Mike Green and Madison Bowey will become free agents next summer, and a right-handed Regula could start getting reps in to take over their roles before this season ends. Regula is not signed to an ELC yet.
Winnipeg left their defense completely out to dry last season and didn’t bring in a whole lot of assets to replenish it. Though he’s a late-rounder from 2018, Declan Chisholm could be the Jets’ next big D-man that came at a steal. Chisholm is currently Peterborough’s highest-scoring defenseman with 24 points in 18 games. He is tied with teammate Semyon Der-Arguchintsev for the third most assists in the league at 23. Winnipeg’s options with Chisholm are plentiful; Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, and Anthony Bitetto are all left defensemen who are in the last year of their contracts. The only defenseman the Jets won’t consider moving is Josh Morrissey. If Chisholm keeps up his productivity and doesn’t fall off the face of the Earth, he’ll start for the Jets next season. Chisholm does not have an ELC yet.
Since he was 16, Ryan Merkley has been putting together some tremendous seasons in the OHL. In his first two seasons in the OHL, Merkley skated in 125 games for Guelph and tallied 122 points (the downside is that he had a -70 rating over those two seasons, but has since improved). Merkley was drafted by San Jose 21st overall in 2018. He then split time between Guelph and Peterborough last season after being traded mid-season, but still managed to record 71 points in 63 total games skated. Merkley is now playing for London (after a September trade) and so far has 18 points in 14 games played this season. The Sharks are pretty stacked in the right defense position with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson absorbing the top two pairings, but Tim Heed is a supremely sub-par D-man whose contract ends next summer. Merkley should be poised to play on San Jose’s third line pairing by October. Merkley signed an ELC last summer. (Steven Ellis wrote about Merkley on PBR back in 2016. Read that profile here.)
The Stars are by no means hurting on defense. They have the third-fewest goals against in the league so far this year and are at the bottom of the league in Total Goals (GF plus GA) per game. Dallas’ 21st overall draft pick this year, Thomas Harley, will only add to their elite defense. Last season in Mississauga as a 17-year old, Harley put up 58 points in 68 games. Harley is currently leading the Steelheads in scoring with 19 points in 15 games. The Syracuse native has the size, at 6’3 and 183 pounds, to transition seamlessly onto an NHL blue line. As a matter of fact, both John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen are slightly smaller than Harley. Andrej Sekera’s contract will expire at the end of the season, and the left-handed Harley can conceivably take over the empty slot by October. Harley signed an ELC with Dallas in September.
The Wild drafted Hunter Jones in the second round this year, and they’re most definitely going to need him to be NHL-ready soon. Jones is one of the best goalies in the OHL; among goalies who have started at least 10 games, Jones is third overall in GAA at 2.68 and sixth overall in save percentage at .911. Jones played 57 games for Peterborough last year and went 28-24-2 with a .902 save percentage. Minnesota have both Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock signed until 2021 and 2022, respectively, but both are aging fast and not improving. The Wild currently have the fourth-most goals against in the league, as well as a save percentage that’s tied for fifth-worst. Dubnyk has a No-Trade Clause in his contract, so the Wild should consider moving Stalock to make room for Jones. Jones has the size- 6’4, 202 pounds- to be among the elite goaltenders of the NHL. Jones has not signed an ELC yet.
Arturs Silovs is going to need another two or three years before being ready to make an NHL debut, but the 18-year old Latvian has shown incredible promise thus far in his first OHL season. Silovs‘ current record is 7-3-1 with a .906 save percentage. He and fellow Barrie netminder Jet Greaves are exactly eight days apart in age, but are tasked with carrying the Colts’ tandem for the season. Taken in the sixth round by Vancouver this year, Silovs will likely be rising by the time Jacob Markstrom or Thatcher Demko’s contracts are expiring. The Canucks are more likely to let Markstrom (29) go over Demko (23), so Silovs can aim for a backup role under Demko. Silovs signed an ELC this August.