Year in and year out, the Ontario Hockey League continues to be one of the best junior hockey leagues in the world, with some talented superstars such as Connor McDavid, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos coming out of the league over the past ten years. But one position continues to struggle when it comes to the NHL draft, goaltending. In fact, just one goalie from the Ontario-based league found themselves selected at the 2015 NHL Draft, with Mackenzie Blackwood heading to the New Jersey Devils in the second round.
This year, however, could see better results. Meet Dylan Wells, perhaps the top 2016 draft eligible netminder in the entire world.
Wells, 17, was always considered to be one of the best goalies in his age group. After seeing time with the minor midget team as an underager, Wells took over between the pipes with the Niagara North Stars in 2013-14, finishing with an 11-8-1 record to go along with three shutouts. While the stats may not sound mind-blowing, his team was rather average when it came to Ontario Minor Midget.
The Peterborough Petes were fine with that, deciding to use the first pick of the second round of the 2014 OHL Draft to choose their future starting goaltender. There was somewhat of a goalie log jam in Peterborough, with the likes of Billy Day, Mat Robson, Scott Smith and Matthew Mancina all wanting to crack the roster. Smith would originally get a chance to show his worth in the early stages of the year, but with things not working out, he’d find himself spending most of the season with the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Milton Icehawks.
The demotion for Smith turned out to be a blessing for Wells, who now had the chance to share the spotlight with Mancina. Mancina, a recent cut by the Detroit Red Wings from training camp, is two years older than Wells, so his OHL rookie season was aided by some older competition. But just like his days with Niagara, the team in front of Wells was less than spectacular. In fact, Peterborough was one of just four teams to miss the league playoffs, with some scary defense and a lack of offense making it tough to really excel.
Wells’ stats from his rookie season don’t tell the story. In most junior leagues, the older goalie typically gets the most starts due to more experience, and that proved to be the case in Peterborough. In 27 games during his freshman campaign, Wells posted a 7-15-1 record to go along with a .893 SP.
Despite playing on a poor team, Hockey Canada was impressed enough to bring him to the Under-17 World Juniors, playing in three games for the weak Ontario squad. He’d get a call to represent Canada again during the off-season, however, seeing much better results this time. Splitting the crease with Carter Hart, Wells was the goaltender in net when the team won their eighth straight tournament title, large in part due to his tremendous play throughout the entire event.
At 6’2, 187 lbs, Wells has very ideal size for most scouts, allowing him to move swiftly while still showing good size. For a young goalkeeper, Wells does a good job of tracking the puck both low and high, allowing him to predict plays from any angle. Wells has some of the fastest reflexes in the draft class, and while that has worked very well for him, it does lead to some unwanted rebounds. He doesn’t tend to slow down his competitiveness throughout a match, but he could learn to calm down a bit when facing multiple chances.
There are no “A” rated goalies in the NHL CSS’ Preliminary Draft Rankings list, but he does come in as a highly touted “B” prospect. If all goes well, it shouldn’t take long for Wells to really prove himself to be a number one goalie on the Petes before potentially heading back to play for Canada at the Under-18’s in April. With a chance at becoming the highest drafted goalie this year, Wells will look for any opportunity he can to put on a show and should’t fall down the rankings.
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.