The OHL Draft is simply a wonderful time for hockey fans. Just like with the NHL Draft that takes place every June, Ontario Hockey League fans are treated to some incredible Minor Midget action all year long, spread out throughout the province. For many, this year proved to be the first real look at some of the NHL’s next great superstars, and with the likes of Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Connor McDavid all going through the same route at some point or another, it’s exciting to think that some future stars will begin their junior hockey quest on April 11th.
The Minor Midget season came to a close this past March, with the legendary Toronto Marlboros squad taking home the gold medal at the OHL Cup following a big overtime victory over the Don Mills Flyers. The tournament featured many incredible performances from players inside the top ten of this list, such as Levin, McLeod and Meireles. Let’s take a look at ten names that could potentially find themselves drafted early on Saturday morning. (9am EDT, OntarioHockeyLeague.com).
1. Sudbury Wolves: David Levin, F (Don Mills Flyers): On Monday evening, the Sudbury Wolves announced that Don Mills Flyers scoring superstar David Levin would be chosen first overall at the OHL Draft. It’s typical for teams to announce their first overall pick early before the draft, allowing a proper introduction to happen before a team chooses their next big superstar. Similar to London Knights star Mitch Marner, Levin has the ability to make everybody look absolutely silly with his incredible skill, blowing past players before making a nice dipsy-doodle for a goal. An incredible skater, Levin doesn’t seem to ever put himself into unfavourable positions and is always one step ahead of his opponents. The popular number one choice for many scouts this season, Levin has the ability to become one of the game’s next great superstars, with a tremendous amount of skill and hockey smarts to help make him one of the most gifted players in the OHL Draft.
2. Windsor Spitfires: Owen Tippett, F (Toronto Red Wings) – Unlike Levin, Tippett has already seen Junior A action this year, spending time with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the OJHL. During his short stint with the club, Tippett was able to post 3 points in 6 games. Those numbers aren’t as mind-blowing as the 12 points Kitchener Rangers star Adam Mascherin was able to put up last year in six games, but it’s still very impressive for a 15-year old to succeed in a league who’s most offensive weapons are usually five years older. An elite scorer, Tippett missed the OHL Cup this past March, but his overall season really was enough to stand out of the crowd. He’s got a shot that seems to never know how to miss the net, and his ability to play a solid two-way game can really change the outcome of a contest. If Tippett’s available, you pick him.
3. Flint Firebirds: Gabe Vilardi, F (CIHA Voyageurs) – How interesting would it be if Gabe was selected to the same team that his brother, Frankie, already plays for? Vilardi was a standout at the recent Canadian Winter Games, helping Team Ontario win gold after finishing fifth in tournament scoring with 12 points. Probably the worst skater of the projected top three, Vilardi has the ability to make some absolute flashy plays with ease, confusing his opponents with some smart moves. Vilardi impressed the Voyageurs brass enough to promote him to the Midget team for four games this season, putting up eight points while playing against older competition. He should be able to transition nicely to the OHL, and if Flint does indeed end up selecting him on Saturday, he could prove to be the newly relocated team’s first superstar.
4. Mississauga Steelheads: Ryan McLeod, F (Toronto Marlboros) – This pick could pretty much be a given. Last year, the Steelheads selected Ryan’s brother, Mikey, fifth overall in the 2014 OHL Draft, so you have to imagine they try to snag his brother this year. The youngest McLeod plays very much like Matt, in the way that he can blow by everyone with his explosive speed before beating the goalie with an incredible wrist shot. He helped lead the Toronto Marlboros to the OHL Cup championship last month, scoring seven points in seven games to earn the tournament MVP honours. If you care about awards like that, Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid have won OHL Cup MVP in previous years, so he must be somewhat good. The recipient of the GTHL’s Player of the Year Award, McLeod won Canada Winter Games gold with Team Ontario earlier this year, adding to a season full of winning. If you still aren’t impressed, Ryan joined older brother Matt with the Oakville Blades earlier this season, giving him rare Junior A experience that many players won’t have heading into the draft. Simply put, the Steelheads would be in good hands if they can re-unite Ryan and Mikey in the near future.
5. Peterborough Petes: Brady Gilmour, F (Quinte Red Devils) – The 2015 OMHA/ETA Player of the Year, Gilmour could be a very solid option for the Petes. A scoring threat every time he touches the puck, Gilmour registered 61 points in 36 ETA games this year, while helping his team win the league championship after a thrilling gold medal game against the York-Simcoe Express in double overtime. Gilmour is one of the best elite goal scorers in the draft this year, and with, well, every team looking for someone to make an impact right away, Gilmour could be an impactful player if he does indeed make the jump to full-time OHL action next season.
6. Saginaw Spirit: Ben Jones, F (Toronto Marlboros) – When deciding where to play for your Minor Midget hockey season, choosing the Toronto Marlboros always seems to be a popular decision. On this list alone, Jones is the second Marlies forward in the top ten, with a good majority of the team expected to be drafted in the top 40 this year. A good option to make the OHL right away, Jones has a tremendous release that fools goaltenders often, as seen by his ability to perform everywhere he has played. A gold medalist with Team Ontario earlier this year, Jones saw some action in the OJHL this year with the Saginaw Spirit, scoring a goal and adding an assist in just a single game of action. Will his performance in his final season of minor hockey help propel him to future OHL success? All signs point to yes.
7. Niagara IceDogs: Isaac Ratcliffe, F (London Jr. Knights) – Issac Ratcliffe is a good hockey player. Another member of Team Ontario’s gold medal winning roster, Ratcliffe had an incredible season with the London Jr. Knights this season, scoring 19 goals and 43 points in 26 games this year. Paired with Nick Suzuki, the AHMMPL league leader in points this season, the London Knights featured a few strong dynamos all season long, with Ratcliffe becoming potentially one of the biggest stars. His all-around game is magnificent, creating quality scoring chances for his team every shift. Ratcliffe may not be the big name teams are looking for in this draft, but his ability to completely change a game around with his skill and his speed is something that makes him a good choice in the top ten this year.
8. Hamilton Bulldogs: Greg Meireles, F (Ottawa Jr. 67’s) – With tremendous OHL Draft attention all season long, Meireles, considered to be the best prospect from Ottawa, finished the season with 41 points in 24 games, good for second on the team and fourth in the league despite missing six games. Meireles may not have the physical traits that some teams may be looking for, his small stature (5’9) has allowed him to show incredible quickness and the ability to maneuver through tight situations. An elite skater that can set the pace with just one stride, Meireles has fantastic vision that allows him to make a play way before any opposing defensemen have a chance to counteract his actions. His release from his wrist shot is absolutely mesmerizing, and in no matter what capacity he attempts, he always seems to find a way to get the puck into the back of the net. He’s almost like a smaller Jamie Benn, and if you’re anything like the Dallas Stars star, you’ll be good at the next step.
9. Owen Sound Attack: Marcus Phillips, D (Toronto Titans) – With Ian Blacker already committed to Western Michigan of the NCAA, Marcus Phillips comes in as this year’s top defense prospect. A skilled two-way defenseman, Phillips can jump into the play and wire it past the opposing goaltender with ease. If he fails, he has the agility and quickness to battle back into his own zone and prevent the other team from getting a scoring chance. A very smooth skater, Phillips led the Toronto Titans Minor Midget tournament in scoring this past fall, finishing with nine points in six games to place seventh overall in the final point rankings. Phillips wasn’t done performing well offensively, finishing fourth in defensive scoring while leading Team Ontario to the Canada Winter Games gold as the captain. A young leader, Phillips has the traits to become one of the OHL’s best young two-way blueliners, and should see some significant action in the OHL next year.
10. Sarnia Sting: Zach Gallant, F (Mississauga Rebels) – If there is any prospect that you should truly keep your eye on, it’s Gallant. Ontario based scouts have had a lot of fun watching the 15-years-old Mississauga Rebels star this season, and after seeing big success with both the Oakville Blades and Team Ontario, he has proven himself to be a very valuable prospect. Gallant has a lot of traits that make him valuable at such a young age. Known to be a fast skater, Gallant seems to always know where to go in the offensive zone, and while that sounds quite basic, he made some older, more experienced opponents look silly by finding his way into scoring areas fairly well. Even in his first two OJHL games, playing players five years older, he looked like one of the better players on every shift. His defensive work could use a bit of extra seasoning, but the way he controls the play with his puck, it makes it tough to deny that this kid is going to be a good, solid prospect in the NHL someday.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.