Ah...normalcy. After having to make last year's preseason list based on U16 performances (because the larger part of the group had yet to play in the OHL), we can make this year's list based on actual OHL performance. This group of players has played in the OHL and we also have a Hockey Canada camp and a Hlinka/Gretzky Cup to base rankings off of. The only thing missing is the World Under 17 Challenge, which will thankfully return this year. As an FYI, here were last year's preseason rankings.
Heading into the season, I would classify this group from Ontario as very top heavy. I think it's a really strong group in terms of potential top two round selections. After that, I'm unsure of the depth. This is magnified by the lack of Imports currently slated to beef up said depth. Of course, that can change a lot over the year too. But, having a crop that is top heavy is not a bad thing either. I see several players that I think can challenge for the Top 10 (in a very strong draft year) and several others who could be Top 50 selections.
Here's my early list:
1. Cam Allen - Defense - Guelph Storm
I've alluded to Allen being my top ranked OHL player heading into the season a few times on social media. I've lobbed high praise in his direction by stating that I believe he was the best 16 year old defender in the league since Aaron Ekblad. Not only was Allen terrific for the Storm last year, but he was great as captain of Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky. Quite honestly, I see a player that doesn't really have a weakness...or at least projects that way. He can quarterback the powerplay with his big shot and mobility/vision. He can lead the attack in transition with his quickness and skill. He is deceptive, but also intelligent in picking his spots. There might even be more room for him to take chances to jump up in the play. Defensively, he has an edge. He is physically engaged and is terrific at defending pace thanks to his strong four way mobility. I think that as he gets stronger, we'll see that physical element really ratchet up. He can struggle at times to win 50/50 battles along the wall and does need to do a better job of engaging and sealing his man more consistently. But, let's see how that develops this year. The defensive IQ is strong, though, and he has a great stick and instincts. Like I said, not really much in the way of a true weakness and a lot of areas that I would grade out as well above average. He's my number one because I think he has a chance to be a right shot, top pairing defender and could end up similar to someone like a Charlie McAvoy, who many would have as one of the top defenders in the NHL.
2. Calum Ritchie - Center - Oshawa Generals
I'm probably in the tiniest of minorities when it comes to having Ritchie ranked behind Allen, and there's a reason for that too...Ritchie is a great prospect in his own right. I thought his rookie OHL season had its ups and downs (connected with Oshawa's ups and downs), but he was very good for Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky. He projects as the kind of top line center who can play in any situation and that is also a rarity. He can play the power game. He is skilled. His passing ability is a strength. His shot is also a strength, but he doesn't use it enough. That's a big next step for IMO. He needs to keep defenders honest. I think his decision making with the puck could stand to be a little more consistent too. He's a creative player...and a confident one. However, at times, some of those high risk passes end up hurting his team. I think all of that works itself out this year and, he too, becomes a prospect at the top end of the draft with very few weaknesses. For me, it comes down to the fact that I think finding that #1, right shot defender, is a little more difficult. Thus Allen entering the year at #1.
3. Colby Barlow - Wing - Owen Sound Atack
How could you not love what Barlow brought to that Canadian Hlinka/Gretzky team? His performance was, quite frankly, extremely eye opening. After posting a list earlier in the summer that had Barlow a few spots lower, a person in OHL management and I chatted and he let me know that I had missed the mark on Barlow's spot. He was correct. I was not. As an OHL rookie, I had wondered how Barlow's game would come together in a few years and the hesitation came from seeing some similar qualities to Owen Tippett (not a terrible young player by any means, but not someone I would take in that top 10 range). I still am very curious to see how Barlow develops as a more complete offensive player; more specifically how his playmaking and passing touch develops. However, there's enough there to make him a lottery selection already. He's big and quick. He was one of the better skaters at the Hlinka IMO. His shot and scoring instincts are great. And his work as a penalty killer and overall defensive presence was mighty impressive. Quite frankly, he projects similar to someone like Cutter Gauthier and we just saw him go in the top five in 2022. I have said this a lot over the years, but finding goal scorers whose zone starts and overall minutes do not need to be sheltered is very difficult.
4. Quentin Musty - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
Oh boy...is Musty going to frustrate scouts this year. His OHL rookie year was mired by some injuries, but also inconsistency. Most of that inconsistency stemmed from issues with his decision making with the puck and with playing through traffic. Playing for the U.S. at the Hlinka/Gretzky, we saw those same issues creep up. Now I say that he's going to frustrate scouts because he is incredibly talented. He combines immense skill and creativity with a big frame. For every poor read he makes with the puck, he makes a terrific play or read to set up a teammate for a scoring chance. His first step quickness needs to improve; in all directions (he particularly seems to struggle making quick directional changes). However, his top speed is pretty good for a bigger winger and when you combine that with his puck protection ability and skill, you have a player who can really create chances in transition. Really, the profile is going to be extremely enticing. But then you come to these holes in his game that make you question the likelihood of him reaching his extremely high upside. Is Musty going to have a draft year like Brandon Saad? All eyes will certainly be on the former first overall selection.
5. Carson Rehkopf - Center/Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Rehkopf is a big forward with a real projectable frame/skill combination. It's easy to see him becoming an NHL player in some capacity. I think we'll learn a lot more about his offensive potential this season in Kitchener, but as of right now, he needs to be ranked highly as a potential first round pick. The big, power forward skates well. He plays through defenders but possesses enough skill to also play around them. He protects the puck well down low and consistently finds his way to the net. He can play in any situation. The questions that I have this year are; a) is he a center or wing long term? b) can his shot and shooting mechanics develop further? and c) can he elevate the players around him as a playmaker? The Rangers should be pretty good this year and I'm hoping Rehkopf can find his way into an integral role amongst that deep group.
6. Ethan Miedema - Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Miedema was probably the biggest disappointment for me at the Hockey Canada U18 camp this summer for the Hlinka. I thought that he would be a near lock going in, but his performance at camp was quite underwhelming. And I say this as someone who really believes in Miedema as a prospect. It is not too often you find a big winger with the vision and offensive awareness that he possesses. As he continues to add strength and becomes more difficult to separate from the puck, he is going to be lethal down low with how he sees the ice. I think the skill level and creativity are also quite high. What I'm now concerned with is his skating ability and his aforementioned strength. Those were the two areas that he really needed to improve upon this offseason, and at that HC camp, those were the two areas that held him back from performing better. If he can show growth, I think his offensive upside is high enough for him to be a first round selection. If not, he probably slips a great deal because of concerns over his mobility hindering his NHL potential.
7. Beau Akey - Defense - Barrie Colts
I was really disappointed that Akey end up getting injured at the Hlinka camp and was unable to participate. I thought he had a great chance of making the team. Few 2005 born players improved over the course of last year the way that Akey did. His mobility is a real asset for him. He's a naturally gifted skater. Due to his quickness and agility, he can lead the attack and push deep into the offensive zone with control, something we saw him start to do late in the year last season. However, I also like Akey's sense and feel in the defensive end. A potentially mobile two-way defender, I think he has great upside and I think that if he has a good year, he'll end up a potential first round selection in a weaker draft pool for defenders. I just hope that the injury he suffered is minor and does not linger this season because he should play a key role for the Colts.
8. Matthew Mania - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Maybe a bit shocking to some to see Mania ranked this high considering his production was mediocre. However, I am a big fan of his game. Among the defenders on this list, his offensive upside is the highest. He is electric leading the attack. His ability to blend skill with quickness to evade checks is impressive and I think he can be a big time point producer on the back-end. How will his defensive game develop this year? Will he be more consistent? Will he be more confident? So many questions, but I just can't ignore the upside here. In many of Sudbury's games last year, Mania would be fairly quiet except for a few dynamic plays every game. It's those dynamic plays that lead me to believe that he can do those types of things on the regular with more experience.
9. Coulson Pitre - Wing - Flint Firebirds
The top late born 2004 from the OHL (at least currently IMO), Pitre is a skilled power winger. He's consistently dialed in physically and is excellent in puck pursuit. He's not the biggest (6'0, 165lbs last year), but he is scrappy as all hell. If he had a good offseason conditioning program, he could be a very, very good OHL player this year with added strength on the puck and the chance to finish on more of the chances that he is creating. The skating is good. It could get better. The offensive ceiling remains a bit of a mystery. However, these are the types of players that I really like (if you know anything about me) and I have high expectations for Pitre this season.
10. Denver Barkey - Center - London Knights
There is a good group of talented, but slightly smaller forwards in this 2005 Ontario crop and I think Barkey has a chance to be the best of the bunch. He was actually really impressive through the first two months of last year, but then he hit a wall and found himself buried on a deep London team. When he played later in the year, it looked like he had lost confidence in his ability to create; the same confidence that was impressive early on. However, he had a very strong Hlinka/Gretzky for Canada and I hope that really gets him going heading into this season. The Knights won't be quite as loaded up front as usual, so there's an opening for him to grab a top six spot. As he proved as the Hlinka/Gretzky, Barkey is tenacious. He's quick. He's intelligent. However, he's also more skilled and creative than he showed while playing that PK, high energy role. I'm very excited to see how Barkey plays this year. Is he a low key candidate to lead the Knights in scoring?
11. Nick Lardis - Wing - Peterborough Petes
There's a lot to like about Lardis' game. He's lightning quick and he loves to take the puck wide to beat defenders one on one. I think he projects best as a complementary goal scorer who can use his speed to play well off the puck and to get himself into scoring position. To do that, his off puck play and physical engagement level will need to increase...or at least become more consistent. I thought he played well enough at the HC Hlinka camp to crack that team, so that's encouraging. I also want to see how Lardis' game rounds out this year. Can he be a difference maker when the game slows down and when he's not able to use his speed on the puck?
12. Matthew Soto - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Speaking of speed, insert Matthew Soto. Like Lardis, he is at his best when he can fly down the wing with the puck and look to take the puck to the net or cut to the middle. I think his off puck play has a little more potential too. Later in the year we saw Soto more consistently engaged in all three zones and at the HC camp, I liked the increase in physical intensity. That should serve him well. My concern is whether the hands are good enough to play at the blistering pace that he wants to play at. The same could be said about his shot and finishing ability. This year in Kingston, where Soto will get lots of ice time, we should get a better idea of whether he projects as a top six winger or more of a bottom six, change of pace, high energy guy.
13. Oliver Bonk - Defense - London Knights
Bonk looked very good in limited games with London last year, so it really wasn't all that surprising to see him perform well at the HC camp to grab a spot on the Hlinka team. There is a very well rounded profile here. I like the IQ at both ends a lot; you can tell that he's the son of a former high end player (Radek Bonk). He is really strong and consistent at starting the breakout and has great scanning habits with the puck. Defensively, his positioning is sound and I liked the increase in physical intensity shown at the Hlinka/Gretzky. I hope this carries over to the OHL season. The million dollar question this year will be...does he have a true standout quality that makes him a potential top four NHL defender? I think there's room for him to improve his four way mobility and his quickness. It's not poor, but it's not an extreme strength either IMO. London seems to be headed for a bit of a transition year, so it does look like he'll get some quality ice time this season.
14. Alexis Daviault - Defense - Sarnia Sting
No question, Daviault was one of the best 2005 born defenders in the OHL last year. He played a lot for Sarnia and showed positive progression over the course of the year. His confidence with the puck really seemed to blossom by the end of the year and we saw him extending his rushes and trying to create in transition. The overall mobility is solid, which is good given that he's not the biggest defender out there. I also like the tenacity he brings to defending, key for a slight defender. He wasn't always winning battles last year, but he was consistently engaged. Like Bonk, I think Daviault is intelligent at both ends and should have a good year for the Sting. But is Daviault dynamic enough offensively? That's the question I'm looking to have answered this year. I think he's someone who is going to have to prove that he can be a consistent play creator to remain in contention for a high draft pick. His value would be less as a "safer" two-way guy given that he's not the biggest or longest. Easier to project him to the pro level if he can be a high end puck mover.
15. Donovan McCoy - Defense - Peterborough Petes
The second late born 2004 to be listed, McCoy was one of my favourites in his OHL draft crop. However, his rookie year had a lot of ups and downs. Even within games, there were consistency issues with his decision making and effectiveness. But, much like Matthew Mania, I believe in the potential because if those really good moments become more prevalent, he's going to be a very good draft prospect. Later in the year we did see McCoy break out of his shell as a puck carrier. He can be impactful as a puck mover because he skates well and can escape pressure. I think he has good potential in the defensive end too because he's got good size, plays physical, and uses his mobility as an asset. It's just a matter of how everything comes together for him this season.
16. Alex Pharand - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Yes...I am a sucker for power forwards. The production for Pharand was only mediocre, but I'm really interested to see how he plays over a full year with his hometown Wolves. Like I mentioned with Rehkopf, Pharand has many potential pro qualities. Big kid who plays a power game but who also shows potential to be an above average skater. He can drive the net. He can play physical and apply pressure in puck retrieval scenarios. He can hold the wall. How skilled is he as a distributor? Can he be an offensive leader? Is he truly a center long term or does he project better as a winger? Lots of questions, but I really like his physical potential.
17. Luca Pinelli - Wing/Center - Ottawa 67's
Really liked the progression that Pinelli showed over the course of the previous OHL season. Early on in the year, he was a complete non factor. But by season's end, he looked like a different player. There are a lot of similarities between he and his brother Francesco. Both are skilled. Both are tenacious. There's a nice middle six ceiling here if he can continue to evolve as a two-way player and off puck threat. I loved the energy he brought at the HC Hlinka camp. He was very effective on the forecheck and embraced the high-energy role that they seemed to be auditioning him for. How Pinelli's draft season goes will depend on the progress of his skating development. Like his brother, Luca needs to improve his quickness and top end speed.
18. Angus MacDonell - Center/Wing - Sarnia Sting
Effort and energy are the name of the game here. MacDonell was always noticeable for Sarnia with how he used his speed to attack, no matter the score. He's not huge, but he sure is tenacious. A former captain with the Toronto Marlboros, it's not going to be long before he's wearing a letter for the Sting too. I think MacDonell also has potential as a goal scorer. He tracks the play well, has good hands, and can really rifle the puck. But what's the upside here? Is he a potential, all situations center who can be an offensive leader? Is he a scoring, complementary winger who can open up space? Or is he more of a bottom six, high energy, PK type? Let's see how this year goes.
19. Carey Terrance - Center/Wing - Erie Otters
Speed is the name of the game here. Terrance is a dynamic mover who can be deadly in transition. The rest of his game? I'm just not sure. I thought that the Hlinka/Gretzky would give us a good indication of his development and how he might look this year, but that wasn't the case as Terrance didn't have a terrific tournament. He looked good when he could attack with speed or support the rush, but inside the offensive zone, he was mostly a passenger. Is Terrance a center or a winger? Can he develop the other parts of his game to give him significant offensive upside? I think he still needs to be rated pretty highly given his speed and transitional abilities, but I have more questions than answers right now.
20. Adam Zidlicky - Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Every time I saw Kitchener play last year, I came away impressed with Zidlicky's energy and effort from the fourth line. It was great to see him get a good chance with the Czech Hlinka team, playing a first line role (even if his performance was inconsistent). Like some of the other guys in this range, I'm just unsure of the high end offensive potential. The Rangers are going to be good this year and Zidlicky is not likely to be more than a bottom six winger. Can he show progression in a limited role?
21. Tristan Bertucci - Defense - Flint Firebirds
If Bertucci can show more offensively this season, he is going to move up this list quickly. He is an excellent athlete on the blueline. His four way mobility is a real strength. He showed well as a defense first type of defender as a rookie, rarely looking to take chances offensively, but rarely making errors either. I think the IQ at both ends is really good. But is Bertucci a true NHL prospect or more likely a solid five year junior player?
22. Cole Brown - Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
Brown didn't play a ton last year due to the Bulldogs' excellent depth, but when called upon to play up in the lineup, he was good. He is a big winger who already has a clear understanding of how to use his size at the OHL level. He takes up position net front and he works the wall well. He also shows potential as a carrier in transition. I think the first step quickness needs to improve. As does his four way mobility (being more deceptive instead of straight North/South). I'm also uncertain of his true offensive ceiling and overall skill level. But there are some pro qualities here and I'm curious to see how he handles more ice time this season.
23. Juan Copeland - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
One of the youngest players eligible this year with an early September birthday, Copeland is a speedy, scoring winger who played well for a rebuilding Niagara team last year. The focus for him has to be adding strength to play through traffic more effectively. Additionally, he needs to be able to show that he has the IQ and awareness to be a difference maker when the game slows down (like several other "speedy" types listed here).
24. Marco Mignosa - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
Mignosa could be in line for a big breakout year if he was able to improve his athletic tools over the summer. He's intelligent. He's skilled. However, there is a need to upgrade his quickness and his strength. He is going to get a chance to play big minutes on a rebuilding Greyhounds team this year and he could move up lists quickly if he can show that the skating has improved.
25. Alex Assadourian - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Another high energy, tenacious attacker, there's a lot to like about Assadourian. He's a real spark plug who can impact the game with his speed. He showed flashes of high end skill last year too, especially as a playmaking pivot. At his size, he's going to have to put up offensive numbers though. I think he has the capability to do it, but this serves as a moderate ranking for now.
26. Luke McNamara - Center - Saginaw Spirit
McNamara didn't have the kind of season he was probably capable of, but few on Saginaw did last year. I think he needs to be listed due to his offensive potential and combination of size and skill. The tools are all there. Adding strength and increasing his physical intensity level are musts.
27. Owen Outwater - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Similar to McNamara. Outwater is very intriguing because of his combination of size and speed. But he got lost in the shuffle on a fairly deep North Bay team and he struggled with consistency due to a lack of strength. What's the offensive ceiling? If he takes a step forward as a skilled player this year, he'll move up rankings quickly.
28. Ethan Hay - Center - Flint Firebirds
A standout on the penalty kill for the Firebirds last year, Hay is one of the most intriguing 2005 centers heading into this year IMO. He did a lot with a limited role last year. Showed flashes of speed, skill, a big shot, and physicality. I'm just not sure how it all comes together and what the upside is. But he could move quickly if he shows well early. There's a lot to like.
29. Michael Podolioukh - Center - North Bay Battalion
Maybe an inclusion on this list that might catch some off guard because the late born 2004 didn't put up great numbers last year. However, I thought he was great in a bottom six role for the Battalion and I think he showed a lot of potential as a two-way, power center. Maybe the offensive upside is limited. It's possible. However, he showed flashes of being a skilled attacker last year and I could see him being the next in line of bigger North Bay forwards who develop slowly...but well.
30. Konnor Smith - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Another late born 2004, Smith proved himself to be one of the OHL's most feared body checkers last year. Yeah, he needs to be more disciplined, but his physicality and size (6'5, 205lbs) will be intriguing to scouts. I thought he also showed some intriguing puck skill and flashed the ability to carry too. Improving his mobility further will be the focus, but I like the size and tools.
Matthew Jovanovic - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
People have forgotten about Jovanovic, once considered to be one of the best 2004 born defenders in Ontario. He was a high profile signing by Saginaw, but has yet to play due to injuries. The late born defender is first year eligible in 2023 and can hopefully hit the ice at some point this year. He is currently listed as still injured on the Spirit training camp roster.
Jackson Parsons - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
Smaller, but athletic netminder who has a chance to be the starter in Kitchener this year. Another late born 2004.
Matthew Mayich - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Another late born 2004. Mayich is a physical, stay at home defender. Not the biggest, but he competes. How his offensive game develops this year will be key to his draft odds.
Joseph Costanzo - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Probably the best 2005 goaltender in the OHL. Looked really good at times for a bad Niagara team last season. Curious to see how he looks this year. Another goalie on the smaller side, so will need to be fantastic to be on the draft radar.
Valentin Zhugin - Wing - Guelph Storm
Late born 2004 winger from Russia shows dynamic offensive ability at times. Consistency was a major issue as a rookie. If he irons that out, he could move quickly.
Sebastien Gervais - Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Winger was a surprise to make the Spirit last year after being a 12th round selection. But he was excellent. Shows great offensive awareness. Has potential to develop a competitive two-way game. He was honestly close to making my Top 30 (last player I cut from the list).
PJ Forgione - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Big, physical, two-way defender shows a lot of promise at both ends. Curious to see how his game improves this year.
Justin Cloutier - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
Undersized winger who competes hard and skates well. Offensive upside is significant. However, strength deficits really limited his impact as a rookie. At 5'7 (although hopefully he's hit a bit of a growth spurt), he's going to need to produce significantly to be on the draft radar.
Cal Uens - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Entered the league as a hybrid forward/defender, but has settled in on the blueline. Not a big kid, but he's an intelligent puck mover with good offensive upside. He's also going to have to put up points to be on the draft radar.
Calem Mangone - Wing - Saginaw Spirit
I really like Mangone. He always caught my eye when I saw Saginaw. Oozes skill. Really fun player to watch. A late born 2004 who is also undersized, I want to see how he performs this year before ranking him in the Top 30.
Chris Barlas - Center - Ottawa 67's
The former #12 pick didn't really have a great rookie year. He competes hard. But I'm not sure the offensive upside is significant. We'll see how he plays this year.
Bronson Ride - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Massive defender didn't play a ton as a rookie on a strong Windsor team, but definitely has pro potential. Very intriguing athletic skill set. Adjusting to the pace and gaining confidence with the puck are still focal points.
Hunter Brzustewicz - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Kimo Gruber - Center - Oshawa Generals
Joseph Willis - Center - Saginaw Spirit