Sunday, September 6, 2020

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2020/21

This annual article looks at some of the rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next year. And by that I mean players not selected in the Import Draft or the recent priority draft (or the midget draft for that matter). I'm talking about 2003 (possibly even 2002) born players who should finally crack their respective teams this year. The list of successful players of this ilk is long (see Mark Scheifele, Remi Elie, Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, Travis Dermott, Zach Senyshyn, Nic Hague, Boris Katchouk, Alex Formenton, Cam Hillis, Jack Quinn, Ethan Cardwell, etc). Obviously, this year is a bit different given the uncertainty surrounding the season (due to the pandemic) and the late start date (December). However, operating under the assumption that a season will happen at some point, these are the names to really keep an eye on.

In addition to my write ups, I've also included brief scouting reports that I've found from some trusted sources on twitter.

Here's the list (sorted by alphabetical order and position):


Max Donoso - Ottawa 67's
A Windsor, ON native and former 5th round pick, Donoso had a terrific 2019/20 season south of the border where he starred with Salisbury Prep, a very prestigious prep school with a bevy of NHL alumni. As a comparison, Donoso's U17 numbers in the "New England" prep circuit were better than current 67's netminder Cedrick Andree's when he played for another top school, "The Gunnery" in 2016/17. Obviously, Donoso could stay at Salisbury for another year with the hope of continuing south of the border to hunt down a scholarship. However, he could also end up in the OHL, especially if the 67's move one of Andree or Cranley (likely Andree). 

Matteo Drobac - Hamilton Bulldogs
While there's certainly some uncertainty around where Drobac fits in next year (given the Bulldogs still have Zach Roy and Marco Costantini), there's no question that he's highly touted. One of the six goalies invited to the virtual U18 Hockey Canada camp this summer after a fantastic year in the GOJHL with Hamilton. One would think that Hamilton sees him as a future fixture and that one of Roy or Costantini (assuming Roy) would exit to make room.

Dixon Grimes - Guelph Storm
Massive, 6'4 goaltender is the son of former OHL player and coach Jake Grimes (who now coaches Cape Breton in the QMJHL). Grimes had a terrific year for Listowel (GOJHL) that saw him earn the goaltending spot on the OHA Top Prospect team (Hunter Jones was another recent recipient). With Nico Daws likely moving on to the pro ranks next year (following his selection in the 2020 NHL Draft), Grimes will be looked to push Owen Bennett for playing time.

Patrick Leaver - Oshawa Generals
Leaver appears to be the top candidate to back-up Zach Paputsakis next year, if the team decides to walk away from Jordan Kooy next year (given his OA status and the team's already solid group of OA's). Leaver was a standout in the CCHL2, not exactly a premier feeder league for the OHL, however he was originally a highly touted netminder for the 2019 OHL Draft out of the Ottawa region (even suiting up for Canada at the Canada Winter Games).

Michael Simpson - Peterborough Petes
While the future crease in Peterborough looks pretty crowded (given the recent selections of Liam Sztuska and Mikael Kingo), Simpson figures to be the running mate with Tye Austin this coming season after Hunter Jones moves on to the pro ranks. Simpson, like many Peterborough draft selections, stayed local to play midget AAA so that he could also practice with the Petes and they could keep a close eye on his development. Even if he was a 10th round selection, Simpson was highly touted for the 2019 OHL Draft and does carry higher expectations than usual for a late round pick.


Andre Anania - Sudbury Wolves
After a strong season with Stouffville (OJHL) looks poised to earn a spot on the Wolves roster for this upcoming season. A former member of that great Toronto Red Wings MM team, Anania's fourteen goals as a U17 defender in the OJHL were mighty impressive. Would imagine that Anania takes Kalle Loponen's spot on the roster and should push a guy like Ribau for ice time.

Owen Brady - Oshawa Generals 
By now, I think anyone who covers the OHL is familiar with Owen's story. Diagnosed with the same kind of bone cancer as Terry Fox, Brady has conquered the diagnosis and is ready to begin his comeback in order to make the OHL. The road to recovery will be long given the kind of surgery Brady required, so it's unknown as to when he'll be able to truly push for a roster spot in Oshawa. However, he is an extremely motivated and former highly touted player who is completely worthy of a spot on this list.


Chase Costantino - Kingston Frontenacs
A relatively recent signing by the Frontenacs, the former Burlington Eagle played south of the border for the 16U Compuware team (along with some pretty good prospects like Tyler Duke, Cutter Gauthier, Zach Filak, among others) last year. A good sized, right shot defender, Costantino is a candidate to slide into a second or third pairing role for the Fronts this year. The team currently does not have a right shot defender, so that certainly gives him a leg up.


Tyler Dunbar - Flint Firebirds 
Certainly a long shot to include the talented Dunbar on this list, but given the state of the pandemic, one has to wonder what his intentions are. Even if he doesn't come next year, there's always a chance he does head North for his NHL draft year (a December birthday makes him 2022 eligible). This is especially true given that he is currently without a college commitment. The Sault Ste. Marie dual citizen was a standout for Muskegon in the USHL last year and is a very highly touted prospect who could become an instant top four defender for the Firebirds.


Ranvir Gill-Shane - Ottawa 67's 
Even though he was held pointless last year in limited action, Gill-Shane still made a positive impression and proved that he is an OHL player with a bright future. A member of the CCHL All Rookie team last year, Gill-Shane is ready for a greater role with the 67's this upcoming season. Ottawa has to replace Bahl, Hoefenmayer, and Okhotyuk back there and they have a ton of talented young defenders to choose from. 

Dylan Gratton - Guelph Storm
Another far fetched addition to the OHL, given his commitment to Penn State and current status in the USHL with Muskegon. However, that commitment was made long ago (2017) and the Storm can offer Gratton a spot in their top four this season, in his NHL draft year. Of course, Gratton can get an equal amount of looks alongside Tyler Dunbar in Muskegon, but I felt he was worth mentioning on this list given his immense talent level.


Artem Guryev - Peterborough Petes
A high second round selection in 2019, Guryev split the year between the OJHL (with Lindsay) and Peterborough because of the Petes' depth on the back-end. The big, physical blueliner is expected to be a big part of a rebuilt Peterborough blueline that is losing Chisholm, Wilson, Paquette, and Maier. Along with 2020 first round pick Donovan McCoy and 2020 Import pick Brian Zanetti, Guryev will be given all the ice time he can handle if he proves worthy. This is especially true for the penalty kill, the unit hit the hardest by graduations.

James Jodoin - Windsor Spitfires 
A high pick in 2019, Jodoin did see minimal ice time with the Spitfires last year when he wasn't with LaSalle (GOJHL). A 6'3 right shot defender, Jodoin could battle Import pick Daniil Sobolev to help replace two integral right shot presences on Windsor's blueline (Corcoran and Rafkin) from a year ago. 


Josh Kavanagh - Peterborough Petes 
An offensive defender out of Northern Ontario, Kavanagh, like Michael Simpson, spent most of last year playing for the Petes' midget team. As such, he got in a lot of practice time and even some game action for the parent club. As mentioned with the Guryev write up, the Petes will be looking to replace a lot of bodies this year and Kavangh has a chance to earn some of Chisholm's powerplay time if he performs well.


Christian Kyrou - Erie Otters 
The brother of former OHL star Jordan Kyrou, Christian is a defender who split last year between the GOJHL and the OHL with Erie. Even though the Otters aren't replacing too many defenders coming into the year, Kyrou does have a chance to solidify his spot in the lineup permanently. His skating ability can surely be an asset to Erie's coaching staff if he can improve his strength. 


Logan Mailloux - London Knights 
The player on this list who certainly has the greatest chance of being an immediate impact player, Mailloux was otherworldly in the GOJHL last year with the London Nationals, dominating award season and putting up some of the best offensive numbers ever from a U17 defender in "Junior B" history, even dating back to before the merger. The big right shot defender is already drawing some attention as a possible first round NHL selection in 2021 and could jump right into the top four of the Knights next year.


Will Murphy - Erie Otters 
Murphy will compete with the likes of Kyrou for a depth spot on the Otters, should he report to Erie. Playing midget back home in Kingston this year, Murphy was a standout in the league and certainly has some potential to be an impact defender in the OHL. He was highly touted as an OHL Draft prospect back in 2019. 


Nicholas Paone - Peterborough Petes
While Paone is certainly a longer shot to make an impact with the Petes given some of the other young defenders they're bringing into the fold next year, he deserves mention on this list after a strong season in the GOJHL with Fort Erie. The former Southern Tier Admiral rearguard has not yet committed to the Petes and may not be interested in the OHL.


Chandler Romeo - Hamilton Bulldogs
A former OHL Cup runner up as part of the Toronto Red Wings team in 2019, Romeo was a standout in both the GOJHL and the OJHL this year with Brantford. A big kid at over 6'4, Romeo is committed to the Bulldogs and will join 2020 first rounder Jorian Donovan and 2020 Import Pick Artyom Grushnikov in trying to reshape a Hamilton blueline that struggled last year. 


Ryan Beck - Saginaw Spirit 
A signing out of the USHL, Beck is an undersized, but feisty '02 center that the Spirit have to be hoping can replace the likes of Damien Giroux or Blade Jenkins (should the two actually leave for the pro ranks this upcoming season). Beck had a solid season with a strong Dubuque team, playing behind the Jackson twins. Originally a Barrie draft pick, Beck's rights were acquired by Saginaw in the Ryan Suzuki deal. He also played for the U.S. at last summer's Hlinka/Gretzky Cup and is eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft in October. 

Rylan Bowers - Mississauga Steelheads
After a strong season with Listowel (GOJHL), Bowers signed with the Steelheads in January and even scored his first OHL goal in limited action. A feisty winger, Bowers was a selection in 2018 who looks like he can play a role for the Steelheads this upcoming season, even if it's as a fourth line agitator. 

Braeden Bowman - Guelph Storm 
A big winger, Bowman got into limited action with the Storm last year. He spent the majority of the year with Kitchener of the GOJHL, where his production was solid. The competition to replace the likes of Cam Hillis, Cedric Ralph, and likely Pavel Gogolev (if he signs after being drafted) will be fierce in camp, with the 2020 OHL draft selections and others battling for spots. He was a linemate of Marko Sikic in MM, so perhaps they look to re-unite those two in a checking line role this coming year.

Brett Bressette - Erie Otters
Over a point per game for Thorold of the GOJHL last year, Bressette also got into limited action with the Otters, scoring his first career OHL goal. The undersized center certainly has a chance to nail down the fourth line center spot for the upcoming season, likely battling with someone like Elias Cohen for ice time.

Jordan D'Intino - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 
While not yet committed to the Greyhounds, D'Intino is a good sized center who had a good year for Strathroy of the GOJHL, finishing as the team's second leading goal scorer. The Greyhounds are expected to return all their centers from a year ago and they added Bryce McConnell-Barker at the draft. However, D'Intino is a guy they likely give a look to if he shows interest in reporting.

Nolan Dann - Sarnia Sting
Dann was a player that I really enjoyed watching at the 2019 OHL Cup, where he was a key member of the runner up Toronto Red Wings. He had a terrific year for Georgetown of the OJHL in 2019/20, finishing as one of the highest scoring '03's in the league. Have to believe that the undersized winger has a real chance of being a top 9 forward for the Sting this year, bringing energy and tenacity to the ice.


Nick DeGrazia - Sudbury Wolves
Few players selected in the U18 draft have had successful runs in the OHL, however DeGrazia has a chance to become one of the better ones. A late bloomer, DeGrazia is a late born '02 who was terrific last year; capturing a Silver medal at the World Junior A Challenge and the NOJHL's rookie of the year award. There are a lot of forward roster spots up for grabs this year for the Wolves (with graduations and OA decisions to be made) and that means DeGrazia could be a top 9 option for them.

Vladislav Dvurechensky - Barrie Colts
A mammoth forward (already 6'4, 200+lbs last year), Dvurechensky split the season between Barrie and Collingwood of the OJHL, where he posted modest stats. A highly skilled player, Vladislav Dvurechensky was definitely someone who made waves at Colts' camp last year. He will certainly be right in the thick of things for one of the bottom six forward spots.

Nolan Forster - Guelph Storm 
A former member of a talented Toronto Marlboros MM team, Forster was a standout in the GOJHL last year with Cambridge. He was one of the highest scoring '03's in the circuit and given his offensive talent level, will push for one of those open forward spots alongside the aforementioned Bowman in Guelph.

Matteo Giampa - London Knights
While likely a long shot to sign with the Knights, he is exactly the type of player that London has had success recruiting in recent years. A Canadian playing prep hockey last year in Connecticut (at the Gunnery), Giampa could certainly help fill out the London forward group that is bound to lose a few players to the pro ranks next year and is considered a forward with a high end ceiling.

Zacharie Giroux - Flint Firebirds
With one Giroux potentially leaving the OHL for the pro ranks, we welcome another. The brother of Saginaw's Damien, Zacharie is a chip off the old block and plays the game similarly to his brother. The only difference is the size, with Zacharie coming in at 5'5 (at least last year). Giroux has always been one of the highest scoring forwards on whatever team he has played for, but will need to show that he can perform at the OHL level given his lack of size. Flint will be counting on him to be a potential top 9 player next season.

Bill Gourgon - North Bay Battalion 
Named the CCHL2's top prospect after a strong season a year ago, Gourgon is certainly a potential forward for the Battalion next season. While the CCHL2 is far from a breeding ground for OHL players, strong production in the league has equated to OHL success before (Oliver Castleman comes to mind). The 5'11 forward has not yet committed to the Battalion, however.

Tyler Hotson - Owen Sound Attack
Perhaps a long shot to sign with the Attack, Hotson does deserve mention on this list following a strong season for Listowel in the GOJHL. A former highly touted minor hockey player, the undersized Hotson will likely have many options available to him next year. Should he choose the Attack, he could help replace some of the team's graduating players (like Dudas, Struthers, and Philip).

Jake Kovacs - Barrie Colts 
Originally thought that Kovacs would be one of the most coveted free agents this year after a terrific season in the NOJHL that saw him above the point per game mark (one of only four U17 players to hit that mark). However, the 5'9 center ended up being a mid round selection of Barrie as a "re-entry" in the 2020 Priority draft. The Colts have a strong collection of '03 and '04 forwards, so Kovacs will be in a battle for playing time should he commit to Barrie.


Steven LaForme - Ottawa 67's
Many believed that LaForme would be heading south of the border after announcing a commitment to Merrimack in January, however after his rights were moved from North Bay to Ottawa, LaForme changed his tune. While not official yet, it's highly believed that LaForme will be in Ottawa next season. The talented playmaker was a standout with Hamilton of the GOJHL this year and has a chance to be in the mix with a bevy of other young players for some open bottom six forward positions.


Mitchell Martin - Kitchener Rangers
The highest scoring U17 player in the NOJHL last year, Martin has signed with Kitchener and should be in the mix for a top 9 spot on the team next year. Given his size (6'2), he could be given a look on the powerplay to help replace the likes of graduates Jonathan Yantsis, Liam Hawel, and Serron Noel. 


Cole Patey - Peterborough Petes 
Another one of those Petes' draft picks who played midget hockey locally so that he could be more highly involved with the Petes and their development staff. A physically intense winger, expectations are pretty high for Patey in terms of jumping into a top 9 role next year and helping to offset some of the major losses up front for Peterborough.


Josh Reid - Mississauga Steelheads 
One of the higher 2019 draft picks to not play in the OHL last year (as a 3rd round selection), Reid split the year between the CCHL and CCHL2. Hopefully his struggles in the CCHL are not indicative of an inability to make the jump. Mississauga will be looking at Reid as a potential depth player this year should he commit to the Steelheads and given his profile as a two-way player, he could make a great fourth line center option.


Colby Saganiuk - Erie Otters
One of the biggest signings of the offseason, the Otters managed to lure Saganiuk away from the U.S. National Development Program. The diminutive, but talented playmaker was buried on the depth chart of the U17 program and obviously wanted to make sure he was getting the ice time he needed in his NHL Draft year. Safe to assume that Erie will be counting on Saganiuk to come in and be an immediate fixture in the Top 6 with powerplay time. 

Tyler Savard - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 
While not officially signed with the Greyhounds, one would have to assume Savard's interest in playing in the OHL for the Greyhounds, considering he left the Peterborough area to play in the NOJHL last year. With the Soo Thunderbirds, Savard was one of the highest scoring U17 players in the league. The 6'2 winger is the son of former OHL and NHL'er Marc Savard and could definitely have a role with SSM next season. 


Devon Savignac - North Bay Battalion
A gritty winger who surprisingly fell to the 9th round of the 2019 Draft, Savignac worked to prove some doubters wrong with an excellent NOJHL season with Blind River last season. While not officially signed with the Battalion, Savignac would fit right in with the strong group of aggressive attackers that North Bay has accumulated for their bottom six. 


Thomas Sinclair - Hamilton Bulldogs 
Not too often you see double re-entries selected in the OHL Priority Draft, but that was the case for Sinclair this year. The December born '02 was selected by Hamilton this year after a fantastic season with St. Mike's of the OJHL. Sinclair was an invite to Sting camp last year, so the interest in the OHL has to be there to some degree. However, he was also selected by Muskegon in the USHL Draft this year. Where he ultimately ends up remains to be seen, but if it's Hamilton, Sinclair is a big center with a shot at being a top 9 player for the Bulldogs.

Brendan Sirizzotti - Ottawa 67's
With such a deep roster upfront last year, there just wasn't any room for consistent ice time for the talented Sirizzotti, a second round selection. As such, he spent most of the year with Pickering of the OJHL, where he was one of the best U17 players in the league. No question, Sirizzotti is one of the most talented players on this list and should be able to make among the largest impacts by claiming a place inside the 67's top 9. He is an electric offensive player.


Oliver Smith - Barrie Colts 
Smith's 28 goals last year in the NOJHL were the most of any U17 player and he even scored his first OHL goal with Barrie in limited action. The 6'0 winger is definitely someone that the Colts are hoping can help improve their forward depth from a year ago and make their bottom six more consistently dangerous next season.


Matthew Sop - Kitchener Rangers 
Much like Mitchell Martin, Sop is a player that the Rangers hope can come in and help fill the gap left by some graduating forwards. He was terrific for Mississauga of the OJHL last year, producing at near a point per game clip. A local product, Sop did earn his first OHL point in limited action with the Rangers last year.


Luke Strickland - Sudbury Wolves 
A late born '02, Strickland was a massive standout in the OJHL last year with Stouffville. His 30 goals earned him a spot on the prestigious OJHL All Prospect Team. The 5'11 winger is likely a long shot to sign with the Wolves, however he was a teammate of Andre Anania's last year and perhaps there is hope that he can help persuade Strickland to play in Sudbury. He would certainly be given a look as a possible top 9 winger with the Wolves.


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