Scouting this year's OHL crop for the NHL draft has been...different. No Ontario Hockey League games this year which means the scouting community has had to get creative. Without question the most difficult thing about evaluating players from Ontario this year has been weighing the different circumstances and leagues against each other. We have some players who went overseas to play in various different leagues. We have some players who played at the U18's, (helping Canada win Gold). We have some players who played at the PBHH Invitational in Erie. We have some players who did not play at all. The one thing that all of these players do have in common is that scouts had to go back and look at their U17 seasons. And even that was a challenge, given some players saw 6 minutes of ice time a night on deep rosters. Needless to say, I hope I never have to scout a draft crop like this ever again.
Even with the challenges of the pandemic I will still bring you four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.
One thing that I will not be doing this year is my annual re-entry article. Just not enough of these players, previously passed over, have had the chance to truly show progression. As per usual, I will also not be including them in my Top 50 rankings. Obviously guys like Ethan Cardwell or James Hardie have a chance to be drafted this time around (and should have been drafted in 2020), but if you are searching for information on them, you can simply consult my final 2020 rankings.
One thing you will notice is that I have included some Import players...and omitted others. Here was how I drew the line on who to include and who not to include. If they played in the league last year (like Chanton) and had intended to return, they were included. Additionally, if they signed and committed to the league, but they did not play elsewhere (like Grushnikov or Sobolev), I included them (out of fairness to them). However, if they had not played in the league yet and played elsewhere this year (like Kuzmin, Kolosov or Petrov), they were not included.
Lastly, as I always state, this ranking is meant to serve as my own list or ranking if I were drafting for an NHL club. It is not a prediction of where I think these players will get drafted. If I did that, the list would look different. If you want a draft projection and a better overall picture of the 2021 NHL Draft crop, be sure to subscribe to McKeen's Hockey and pick up our draft guide, (which I have a large hand in).
Last year, no players in my HM group were drafted. This year? I could see a few late round swings being taken on a few of these players. I truly don't think many of us know how NHL teams will approach Ontario this year. As always, these are listed in alphabetical order.
Ryan Beck - Center - Saginaw Spirit
Like Colby Saganiuk, who I ranked inside my Top 50, Beck left the USHL and a scholarship to Denver to join the OHL this season...only to have the year canceled. A late born '02, Beck's speed, playmaking ability, and two-way effort are evident. I thought he had some very strong moments at the Erie showcase. However, I am also not sure if I see a player who is more than a middle six player at the OHL level. I would certainly need to see more from him to draft him, but would keep close tabs on him in Saginaw in the coming seasons.
Braeden Bowman - Right Wing - Guelph Storm
Bowman is a good sized scoring winger who played the majority of last season in the GOJHL with Kitchener and was among the best U17 players in the league. He is added to my HM list based on his play in Erie, where he was actually one of the highest scoring players. He may have really opened some eyes at the event with his ability to make plays in traffic and shoot the puck. Given that I am nearly basing my entire assessment on his play in Erie, I would want to see more from him next year before drafting him, but he is definitely a fully on my radar now moving forward.
Alex Christopoulos - Right Wing - North Bay Battalion
The twin brother and teammate of defender Paul (ranked in the top 50), Alex is a high energy winger who excels on the forecheck and in creating room for himself in the slot. His 12 goals two seasons ago with North Bay was tied for the 7th most by a U17 player (with Wyatt Johnston and Ryan Winterton). Christopoulos is definitely a dangerous player in that home plate area because of his wrist shot and his scoring instincts. He is not a huge kid, but he plays a pretty fearless game when it comes to attacking the crease and taking punishment to try to secure a rebound or get his stick on a point shot. Like his brother Paul, Alex's agility and work on his edges is better than his top speed, allowing him to make sharp cuts to evade checks in the offensive zone, but making him a little less effective carrying or participating in transitional attacks. Alex's energy and strength will also need to be applied a little more consistently in the defensive end too. He is definitely worthy of a mention on this list though and he does have the potential to be a 30 goal scorer at the OHL level.
T-Bone Codd - Right Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Davis "T-Bone" Codd not only has one of the best names in the draft, but he is also one of the fastest skaters available. If you recall, I included a few similar types (Avon, Saganiuk, DeGrazia) in my top 50, but for me, Codd has not shown as much (either in terms of dynamic skill or all around play) as those others. At 5'9, 163lbs, he will need to bring a little more to the table than pure speed and skating ability. That said, he did show some flashes at the Erie showcase, dazzling with his speed and improved strength on the puck. There is skill there, but I would want to see more before committing a draft selection.
Nolan Dann - Left Wing - Sarnia Sting
A standout in the OJHL two years ago with Georgetown, Dann was expected to be one of the league's top rookies this season with Sarnia. The shifty and talented offensive winger is a former standout with the Toronto Red Wings in U16, playing with Francesco Pinelli and Adam Fantilli. Ranking him based on his OJHL season was difficult. Dann is extremely quick and he uses that speed with great effectiveness in the offensive end, to attack the slot and to apply pressure on the forecheck. However, he also had some bad habits that would have limited his effectiveness at the OHL level, such as a lack of involvement and engagement along the wall, and offensive zone turnovers from trying to force plays with pace or beat defenders one on one. Dann could have easily come into the OHL this year and been a 25/25 guy and put himself on the scouting map. He could have also come in and struggled to make a consistent impact as the transition from the OJHL does not always go smoothly, especially when you consider some of those habits. That sort of mystery is what makes it difficult to rank him. That said, when you factor in his speed and offensive skill set, it would not shock me to see him get drafted. Additionally, it would not shock me if NHL teams apply a wait and see approach with him, wanting to see him perform at the OHL level first. For what it's worth, I felt like he failed to stand out at the Erie showcase, save for a few moments where his speed was effective in transition.
Jesse Fishman - Center - Kitchener Rangers
Strong skating, offensive center who doesn't have terrific size (5'10, 170lbs), but is certainly dynamic in transition because of his quickness. Played a depth role for the Rangers last season but would have likely been a strong candidate for the third line center role this year. At the Erie showcase, he had a strong showing and has certainly raised some eyebrows. If he had a little more size, I would say that he would be a likely draft candidate, but given the small sample size and the chance that he doesn't stick down the middle, he is probably more of a wait and see player. Fishman does have a good shot and that is his best weapon when the game slows down and he is not able to attack with pace. Fishman did go overseas this year to play in the U20 Mestis league in Finland too.
Jacob Frasca - Center - Barrie Colts
Big (6'3) center with some potential to develop into a high end two-way player. Shows good instincts in the offensive and defensive end and did not look out of place with the Colts in his rookie season. Frasca protects the puck well in open ice and with some skill and creativity, could be a real play driver. For me, I would want to see more development as a skater in order to take his game to that next level. In particular, his first few steps are sluggish. Would not shock me to see an NHL team give him a chance given his size down the middle.
Ty Hollett - Defense - North Bay Battalion
We all know how much NHL scouts love huge right shot defenders and Hollett is just that (6'4, 200lbs). He didn't play much with North Bay in his rookie OHL season (mostly playing at home in the CCHL), however he did attend the Erie showcase. From what I've been told his mobility and edgework have really improved and in comparing video it does appear to be the case. He showed well at the event defensively, with impressive anticipation, awareness, and physicality in the defensive end. Not much to be seen in the way of offense and I think the skating will need to continue to improve. At the very least, he's raised some eye brows.
Kyle Jackson - Center - North Bay Battalion
The CCHL rookie of the year in 2018/19, Jackson was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie OHL season, struggling to find ways to make a consistent impact. He was just too easily knocked off the puck and it prevented him from utilizing his offensive gifts to the best of his ability. A late '02, Jackson could have easily pulled a Jack Quinn this year and put in the work to be better in his draft year, but without that to go on, he remains a longer shot. More of a methodical offensive player, scouts will be looking for Jackson to increase his pace of play and improve his overall game to be more consistently engaged. Lots of offensive potential here, especially at the OHL level.
Jacob Maillet - Center - Guelph Storm
Maillet is a potential two-way center who struggled with the pace of play in his rookie season in the OHL with Guelph. Upgrading his skating was definitely going to be priority number one. But that definitely appears to be the case based on his showing at the Erie showcase. His high end speed remains below average, however he does look more explosive and more confident on his edges. This has allowed him to find success driving the net at the event and creating with change of pace attacks. Not an NHL draft selection at this current time IMO, but definitely someone who has clearly improved their game this year and would have had a solid OHL season.
Landon McCallum - Center/Wing - Sudbury WolvesIn all honesty, I did not see much from McCallum in his rookie year that suggested he was an NHL draft prospect to watch (despite being an OHL first rounder). However, I really liked his tenacity and skill package in Erie. More quick and shifty than powerful, McCallum darts in and out of traffic well and seems to earn himself his share of scoring chances with his effort and motor. He played with a ton of physicality and was one of the more physically intense forwards at the event, constantly looking to make things happen on the forecheck. Moving forward, the question I would have is, just how much upside does he have offensively? I definitely saw more from him in terms of scoring ability and creativity than I had previously and that is promising. However, I would also need to see more to suggest that he could be more than a complimentary, change of pace attacker on the fourth line.
Daniel Michaud - Center - Oshawa Generals
A good sized center (6'2), Michaud did not have the kind of rookie season that I expected from him, given I was a big fan of him as a U16 player with Quinte. Michaud was a real force in transition as a U16 player because of his size and skill combination, with the consistent ability to gain the offensive zone and control tempo. However, a lack of power in his stride really prevented him from doing that at the OHL level. He also struggled to win battles down low and along the wall the way he did against his own age group, suggesting that his strength and conditioning also needed to be upgraded. Unfortunately, it is all we have to go off of, but I can't shake how impressive he was with the Quinte Red Devils and I do believe that we would have seen a much better player this season. He was one of the players I was really hoping would attend the PBHH in Erie.
Riley Pitt - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Came into the Erie showcase not knowing a whole lot about Pitt, but he definitely caught my eye. Big kid (6'5) who moves quite well moving forward and this allows him to be a factor exiting the zone and starting the breakout. He is also good in the corners with his reach, although needs to get a little stronger to defend net front with more ferocity. His lateral and backwards mobility is a little awkward, making him inconsistent in defending in transition, but I think there is some potential here. Additionally, the hands and skill with the puck also seem to play inconsistently, but again....potential. Like I said, Pitt showed some good things in Erie and is someone to keep an eye on.
Chandler Romeo - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
Really liked Romeo's game at the OHL Cup back in 2019 when he was a runner up with the Toronto Jr. Red Wings. He didn't play in the OHL last season, instead splitting time between the GOJHL and OJHL. However, he is signed with Hamilton and will be playing in the OHL starting next season. I have the utmost confidence that he will develop into a very good, top four stay at home defender at the OHL level. He's 6'5, 205lbs, moves well backwards and laterally, and plays a physical game. He was one of the players I was most excited to see at the Erie showcase. However, I did not see enough from him as a confident offensive contributor to suggest a draft selection at this time. Obviously small sample size, but that's 2021 for you. Like many of the others mentioned in this HM category (perhaps even more than the others), I'll be watching his progression closely in Hamilton to see if he can upgrade his decision making and confidence with the puck.
Brenden Sirizzotti - Right Wing/Center - Ottawa 67's
Like Dann, Sirizzotti finds himself on the HM list despite how successful their seasons were in the OJHL as U17 players (two of the better performances in the last decade by 16 year olds). However, as mentioned with Dann, it is hard to place them among those that played in the OHL full time two years ago. Sirizzotti is a competitive and quick playmaker who shows an ability to control pace, varying his attacks. Coming out of U16, he was known for his ability to drive possession along the wall and was absolutely lethal below the hash marks, but due to a lack of strength, this has not translated as of yet to the OJHL or OHL levels. In fact, turnovers were an issue at both levels last year, as similar to Dann, Sirizzotti has some bad habits that will need to be corrected, such as his desire to try to force plays through traffic. If the OHL had played this season, Sirizzotti would have likely been a top 9 player for the 67's and probably had a good offensive season. But instead we have to go off of what we saw two years ago when he was not quite strong enough for the league. It goes without saying that with his speed, skill, and vision, Sirizzotti has a chance to be one of the better playmakers in the OHL by the time he graduates, however whether he is a high end NHL prospect remains to be seen.
Gavin White - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
A late born '02, White was a selection in the U18 draft and did see some spot duty last season in the OHL with the Bulldogs. However, he was a standout at the Erie showcase with his quickness and mobility on the blueline. He can really push the pace and he walks the line extremely well with lateral quickness and strong edgework. You wonder...is this a kid who has improved a ton in the last year and would have had a strong year in Hamilton? I don't think there is enough there yet to draft him, but I will definitely be watching him more closely in the future.
Trey Zagrzebski - Center/Wing - Barrie Colts
It was a tough rookie year for Zagrzebski. He battled a shoulder injury, got suspended for a slewfoot, and got pushed down the Barrie depth chart. However, he looked very strong at the Erie showcase, showing a fair amount of skill and a real nose for the net despite being around 5'10. I think his skating is going to have to be something that he continues to upgrade, especially as an average (to below average) sized forward. But the offensive awareness and intelligence is evident. He should have a much better year in the OHL when it resumes.
Pasquale Zito - Center - Windsor Spitfires
Another player who really impressed me back at the 2019 OHL Cup, playing with the Mississauga Rebels (along with Jessie Fishman, another HM). Zito excels playing a power game; bullish with the puck on his stick as he looks to have success through the middle. He definitely had some success doing so at the OHL level last season, but will need to continue to upgrade his explosiveness and add more dynamic layers to his stride (laterally) to really make a consistent impact as that sort of player at the next level. As a strong puck protection center and potentially valuable two-way player, I could see an NHL team taking a chance on him.