With the NHL playoffs coming up soon, most people are focused about the NHL Draft in June with names like Jakob Chychrun, Michael McLeod and Alexander Nylander representing some of the top OHL options. But what about the OHL Draft on April 9th, profiling the best options for the 2018 NHL Draft two years in advance?
The OHL Priority Selection is a very exciting time for scouts, parents and players alike. With 15 rounds and 22 teams to fill their prospect bases, the draft is filled with players that we’ll grow to love and others that will make their impact many years down the road.
The 2016 OHL Draft has a lot to look forward to. With many players undecided on whether they’ll play in Canada or not, as well as with the Flint Firebirds situation where nobody wants to play, there’s a lot of unknowns heading into one of the most important parts of the season. Let’s take a look at ten names that could potentially find themselves drafted early on Saturday morning. (9am EDT, OntarioHockeyLeague.com).
DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert on minor midget players. I did watch close to 50 games in person this year, but that pales in comparison of what the hard working scouts do. Follow @MarkEdwardsHP, @Macker61 and @RossyYoungblood for in depth scouting notes all year long.
10. Giovanni Vallati, D (Owen Sound Attack): One thing that’s noticeable in this top ten is that defense is a strong position in the OHL Draft. Vallati starts off the group, as the Vaughn Kings defenseman is likely to find himself available around the tenth pick. With some older defensemen at the end of their OHL careers, Vallati could be what the Attack need to have a strong presence on the back end. A quick puck-moving defenseman, Vallati can contribute offensively from the point and always seems to be a threat at every end of the ice.
9. Connor Roberts, F (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds): Roberts may not have the high offensive numbers to wow you, but his rounded game is something that should get him a spot in the top ten. One of the better players for Canada at the Youth Olympic Games, Roberts finished the tournament with three goals and four points for the silver medal winning team. Roberts had 39 points in 28 games with the Grey-Bruce Highlanders of SCTA this year and he also saw two games of action as an AP with the Listowel Cyclones of the GOJHL. According to TheScout.ca, “Roberts is arguably the most complete defensive minded pivot in the draft and his responsible, competitive style would make for an easy transition to the OHL”. If Roberts can make the Greyhounds of the gate, he’ll add to a young group of forwards who should be good in a year or two, with Roberts being one of the leaders along the way.
8. Jack McBain, F (Peterborough Petes): Depending on who you talk to, Jack McBain may or may not be a viable option inside the top ten. Skill wise, he’s loaded. A play-maker first, McBain had no goals at the OHL Cup, but did finish with eight assists. Mike Mackley, a prospect expert who follows minor midget extensively, described McBain as a pro prospect that will produce at the OHL level, but it will take time. He skates well, he’s very smart and he has a deceptive amount of skill. Potentially the best centreman in the draft, McBain was counted on to play on the power play but could use a bit of work in his own zone. He’s good off of the draw and can pass very well, and it will be interesting to see if his skill with the puck translates to the next level.
7. Dennis Busby, D (Mississauga Steelheads): After a few years with the Don Mills Flyers, Busby made the interesting decision to sign with the Barrie Colts AAA team for his final year of minor midget hockey. In a rare instance, Busby spent all of last season with the Flyers Minor Midget team, a year earlier than the rest of the age group. Probably the best defenseman in the entire ETA Minor Midget league, Busby is a talented, two-way blue-liner who focuses a lot on making sure his own end is taken care of before making a play at the other end. Busby is a very mobile defender who makes a great first pass and can follow it up by covering up any holes in his own zone if he does in fact make a mistake. Busby is a very good skater that doesn’t need to worry about getting caught with the puck if he does rush it, but he doesn’t play very physical due to his smaller frame. With the Steelheads loaded at offense and the team seemingly in constant struggle with star defenseman Sean Day, Busby seems to be the right choice for a team that has the potential to be a solid playoff contender in 2016-2017.
6. Tyler Weiss, F (Oshawa Generals): Like any top ranking American player, it will be interesting to see what happens to Weiss in the short term future. A top prospect all season long, Weiss has already committed to Boston College for 2018-2019, but is believed to be taking OHL offers. The verdict is still out as to if he would accept playing in Oshawa, but with the team looking to return to the Memorial Cup in a few years, he could be the leader the team needs. Weiss missed the start of the season due to an injury but came back to be a team leader for the Don Mills Flyers, finishing with 34 points in 25 games for the GTHL club. His seven points in six OHL Cup games added to his strong performance that saw many scouts in awe over his performance. Weiss did go to the US NDTP camp right after the playoffs, so it will be enticing to see where he ends up deciding to take his skill for the short term future.
5. Pavel Gogolev, F (Flint Firebirds): With the Firebirds being one of the laughing stocks of the league this year due to their horrific management issues, the team needs something to go right for them. Just days before the draft, the OHL decided to remove Flint’s third overall pick after investigating the exploits of Rolf Nilsen, the former controversial owner of the team. So with the fifth pick, which happens to be a conditional pick due to their trade of Ryan McLeod to Mississauga a year ago, they need to pick someone who will actually commit to the team to avoid wasting the pick altogether. There have been rumors that Pavel Gogolev would not actually sign with the team, so this pick is really just a toss up at this point. If it’s hard to get one player to commit, how will they handle the 15-round draft? Regardless, Gogolev fits the mold as a big power forward who put up 68 points in 48 games with the CIHA White Midget team this year. Gogolev also had four assists for Russia at the Youth Olympics, so he knows a thing or two about adding points on the score board.
4. Aidan Dudas, F (Saginaw Spirit): Not to be convinced of popular Canadian street Dundas, Aidan Dudas is one heck of a minor midget hockey prospect. With 51 points in 31 games for the North Central Predators, Dudas exploded for the third place ETA squad. Mackley says that “Dudas competes hard and never takes a shift off. He’s reliable in his own zone and is undersized but plays bigger then he is. Never shy’s away from contact or the gritty areas and has the ability to lead the team both as a captain an offensively”. Dudas has a ton of skill and speed and doesn’t let bigger players take advantage of him, so he’s the type of player you want playing a key role for your team for a couple of seasons.
3. Kirill Nizhnikov, F (Hamilton Bulldogs): If Nizhnikov decides to stick around in Ontario, he’ll be one heck of a pickup for the Bulldogs, assuming he doesn’t get picked up by Sudbury. With the disaster over in Flint, there’s also a chance that Nizhnikov will fall down just a slight bit more, but he has the skill to still be a top talent in draft this year. A member of the Russian Youth Olympics roster a few months back, Nizhnikov is a typical Russian sniper with speed to boot. He could work a bit on his consistency, but his overall talent level is very impressive and he’s no slouch with the puck. His eight points at the OHL Cup were very impressive for a Jr. Canadiens team that fell to the Toronto Marlboros in the semi-finals. Nizhnikov has experience playing in the OJHL already and after looking solid in his short stint with the Jr. Canadiens Jr. A team, he should transfer fairly well to major junior next year.
2. Owen Lalonde, D (Sudbury Wolves): The 2016 OHL Draft has more defensive depth than usual, and Lalonde is easily one of the best. With Sudbury likely to turn to the Alliance defenseman, the Windsor Jr. Spitfires star did everything but disappoint thanks to 37 points in 33 games. Sudbury could use a defenseman that they can build a team around and after picking up David Levin first overall in 2015, Lalonde is their guy. Lalonde shot up the rankings all season long and has proven that he can lead a team in all situations during his time with the Spitfires, and even earned a game with the LaSalle Vipers in the Junior B league GOJHL. According to Brendan Ross from the TheScout.ca on a report on OHL Prospects, Lalonde “is your prototypical two-way, all-situations defenceman that teams look to anchor their blueline.” Lalonde appears to be a safe pick in the top five this year and if you need any proof, just wait until you see him suit up for Sudbury (or another team) next season.
1. Ryan Merkley, D (Guelph Storm): We’ve discussed Merkley’s exploits during his draft season already this year, and there is still no disputing his role as the first overall pick on Saturday. In fact, Guelph is set to make the announcement before the draft even takes place, a typical event for first overall selections in the OHL. After playing a game against 16-year-olds at just 13 years old, Merkley made the jump to minor midget a whole season early last year to much success. Merkley would spend the whole season with the top-ranked 1999-born Toronto Jr. Canadiens, who finished the season on top with a 60-17-5 record through regular season games and tournaments. At the end of the season, Merkley put up an impressive five points in as many games at the elite OHL Cup event, helping the Jr. Canadiens to a semi-final appearance while playing some key minutes. A leading player every time the Jr. Canadiens take to the ice, Merkley started off this past season with 16 points at the Toronto Titans tournament, good to beat out teammate Alexander Dipaolo by three points for the top scoring honours in the tournament despite being a defenseman. Merkley was an integral part of Canada’s silver medal effort at the 2016 Youth Olympics in Norway, and with him topping the charts of many draft lists this year, his story has only just begun.
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.