It's that time of the year for my annual (2022, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. NHL teams continue to draft re-entry players in increasing number. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Mangiapane, Tanner Pearson, Sean Durzi, and Colin Miller as legitimate NHL players are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.
Just to clarify, yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.
Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2021 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.
Last year this group was very strong because of the OHL hiatus. Two years of physical development "unscouted" led to many OHL re-entries selected. In total, seven were selected, including OHL scoring leader Matt Maggio, and Tucker Robertson/Amadeus Lombardi, who look like terrific NHL prospects at this point. This year, I would not call the group as strong. I would suspect that we only see two or three of the players from this list selected.
Without further rambling, here's my list:
1. Rodwin Dionicio - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
No question, Dionicio is a complicated NHL prospect and one who remains a bit of a long shot to be an NHL player. Yet, we have to applaud the improvement that he showed this year, especially after being dealt to the Windsor Spitfires. He was one of the best offensive defenders in the OHL in the second half and is only a year away from being first time draft eligible. His hands and creativity are top notch. He routinely beats the initial layer of pressure and is a threat to go end to end almost every time he leads the attack out of Windsor's zone. He can quarterback the powerplay with a good point shot and quick movement. His offensive potential is significant at the next level. Defensively, he's a bit of a riverboat gambler. He likes to play physical, but he can chase the hit and the play, taking him out of position. His four way mobility improved a lot this year, but his backwards stride and transitions will still need to improve for him to be an NHL defender. There's a reason why he was used as a forward at times this year by Windsor (including in the playoffs). Of course, his untimely suspension in the playoffs likely didn't help his cause either. As much as he's a player with warts, I'd still have him ranked as the top re-entry from the OHL and someone I'd consider in the mid-late rounds because his upside is quite high under the right development model. Considering how much he improved in a half a season in Windsor, I'd be curious to see what a full year next season could do.
2. Brady Stonehouse - Wing - Ottawa 67's
Ottawa's second leading goal scorer this year, on a lot of nights, Stonehouse was the straw that stirred the drink for the 67's. He showed a great deal of development this year after being passed over last year as a first time eligible player. He's such a tenacious player and his quickness, speed, and balance all showed great improvement this year, which is critical given his lack of ideal size. He'd still be only an average skater for the NHL level, but improving his skating was a critical next step and he did that this season. Because of his tenaciousness, Stonehouse can be utilized in any situation; he's like a Swiss army knife. Perhaps the most underrated component to his game is his puck skill and finishing ability. You don't score 37 in the OHL as an 18/19 year old by accident. He can carry the puck at full speed and he has quick hands and a quick snapshot to finish off plays in tight. The only real strike against Stonehouse is that he looks like he's hit a bit of a physical wall in the playoffs thus far, much like some of Ottawa's other younger players. I don't think the upside is significant, but I would probably said the same thing about a guy like Michael Bunting at the same age.
3. Spencer Sova - Defense - Erie Otters
Speaking of hitting a wall, that's what Spencer Sova did this year too, playing a ton of minutes for a rebuilding Erie team that consistently took a beating down the stretch to close out the year poorly. First half of the year, Sova would have easily been number one on this list and IMO was looking like one of the top re-entries available for the draft...period. Second half...not so much. However, I'd still look at him late. You'd be hard pressed to find a better skating defender not currently without an NHL affiliation. He's that good of a mover. First half, we saw him consistently using his speed to be an impact player in transition. Second half, he fell back into the shell that we saw last year in his original draft year. He's got a great point shot, one of the better ones in the OHL, but he needs to use his feet more consistently to get himself those open looks; increasing aggressiveness is key. One thing I'll give him credit for is improving his physical intensity level, a major knock from his draft year. His willingness to battle for positioning was consistently noticeable and it's the reason why I'd be willing to spend a late pick on him. I do think that he will continue to improve, especially as Erie becomes a potential Western powerhouse again. Adding Matt Schaefer into the fold next year will help Sova significantly, by taking some pressure off of him.
4. Beau Jelsma - Center/Wing - Barrie Colts
I would have drafted Jelsma last year and I'd advocate for him again this year. I thought he closed out the regular season really well and has been good for Barrie in the playoffs so far. Look, I'll be honest. I'm not really sure what Jelsma is at the NHL level. Those projection issues are the reason why he wasn't drafted last year. He has a well rounded skill set, but isn't exactly elite at anything. He's also undersized. Yet, when you watch him play, he consistently passes the eye test. The sum of his parts is a quality hockey player. With the big time OA's graduating in Barrie next year, look for him to have a huge offensive season. He's quick. He's strong. He's feisty. He has underrated skill. He can kill penalties. He can play multiple positions. Again, the projection is muddy. He's not a perfect fit in a stereotypical way as an NHL top six player or bottom six player. Yet, I'd be willing to take a chance on him late to see what my development team could do with him in the future. I'm sure you could milk a niche out of his skill set.
5. Braeden Bowman - Wing - Guelph Storm
Bowman was easily one of the most improved players in the OHL this year. Yeah, his goal scoring totals only increased from 27 to 33, but it was how he scored those 33 goals and the improvements made in other areas that has him firmly on the NHL draft radar. As an OHL rookie last year, Bowman was almost exclusively a net front presence and complementary player. Even going back to his GOJHL days with Kitchener, that was his game. That changed a lot this year thanks to significant improvement made to his skating, small area skill, and confidence carrying the puck. Bowman suddenly became dangerous with the puck on his stick in transition, showing an ability to drive the net and beat defenders one on one. His vision and playmaking ability, especially coming off the wall, also improved to a spot that I didn't conceive as attainable previously. Bowman is now a 6'2 power winger who can create his own chances and ones for his teammates. The skating will still need to improve, but given the rapid development curve here, I would be shocked if an NHL team does not select Bowman this year.
6. Kocha Delic - Center/Wing - Sudbury Wolves
It wasn't the healthiest season for Delic, but you can't discount the production. After a strong performance for Canada at the U18's last year, I really felt like Delic would be a later round pick. Tat wasn't the case. This year, he returned to Sudbury highly motivated to be a difference maker and he was that on a lot of nights for the Wolves. His motor is consistent and I think that gives him a really decent floor as a pro. He has strong defensive instincts, can be utilized in a variety of roles, is a great forechecker, and skates pretty well. I'm sure scouts wish he were bigger, but his compete helps to offset that. As an offensive player, he continues to show great chemistry with Musty and Goyette, operating as a workhorse of the line. However, I really like how he uses quick touches to operate in high traffic areas. The puck is on and off his stick quickly as he darts in and out of coverage, and he's willing to take a hit to finish off a play or make a pass. In a lot of ways, he's like Beau Jelsma. I see the hesitancy from scouts. However, I think he's shown enough this year to warrant consideration.
7. Djibril Toure - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Raw. Like, very raw. Toure hasn't spent a ton of time at the higher levels and as an '03 he was playing in his first year in the OHL this season. His game is currently far from mistake free. He can bobble pucks. His decision making and reads leave some to be desired. On some shifts, he looks in over his head. Yet...there's just something about his game that screams late bloomer. He's a 6'7, right shot defender with above average movement qualities. He can get around the ice well and close gaps quickly. As he becomes more fluid in his transitions and improves his confidence on his edges, are we looking at a 6'7 defender whose mobility is an asset? Additionally, he's extremely difficult to play against. He's very aggressive physically. He'll step up on you at the blueline. He'll punish you below the goal line. He makes life difficult for forwards near the crease. As he fills out his frame further, what kind of defensive potential does Toure have? If Toure was an '04, I'd have him right at the top of this list. But as an '03, the runway for development just isn't as long. He'll be an OHL overager next year and then what? I think he's that much of a long term project. But, his athletic tools are just really, really intriguing.
8. Oliver Peer - Center/Wing - Windsor Spitifres
Pace is the name of the game here. Peer is one of the quicker players in the OHL. Even without long, powerful strides, his quick feet generate so much power and this allows him to be one of the better transitional attackers in the OHL. I really like how his game is middle of the ice focused too. He's also looking to drive the middle to open up space and this allows him to excel as a playmaker. Peer is also a hard worker who kills penalties and competes on the backcheck. He's not necessarily a physical player, but he works hard without the puck to earn touches. What's the upside? I'm not entirely sure. Like any player on this list there could be limitations. But, I'm always drawn to the breakneck pace that Peer plays at and how successful he is at creating scoring chances. I'd bet that he is one of the higher scoring OA's in the OHL next season, in which case he'll draw NHL interest. Given how much he's improved over his short OHL career, I'd possibly be willing to bring him into the fold to see if I could turn him into a high energy, bottom six guy as he improves his strength on the puck and physical intensity.
9. Connor Punnett - Defense - Barrie Colts
Everyone had their eye on Brandt Clarke and Beau Akey this year in Barrie and it's caused many to be sleeping on the positive development of Punnett. A minute muncher for the Colts, he's probably the favourite to be the team's captain next year as an OA. Punnett has always been one of the more physical defenders in the OHL, with a penchant for the big open ice hit, but this year his confidence with the puck grew substantially. Armed with a booming point shot, Punnett generates a lot of second chance opportunities with his shot. He's also a good skater who can skate himself out of trouble in the defensive end and who can lead the counter attack when he sees an opportunity to jump up in the play. From a skilled perspective, the offensive production likely wouldn't carry over to the next level. He can get boxed in and isn't the world's most creative player. But, he's got good size, a big shot, a penchant for physicality, and is a decent mover. Many a junior defenders have used that combination to become NHL defenders.
10. Dylan Roobroeck - Center - Oshawa Generals
The move from Niagara to Oshawa really helped Roobroeck develop into a highly useful OHL player this season, his second in the league. His brother Ryan was just recently selected second overall by Niagara in the priority selection and is a much more hyped player, but we can't overlook Dylan's progression this season. A 6'7 center, Dylan is the epitome of a player still growing into his frame; he's very much still learning how to use his size to his advantage. Continuing to improve his skating, especially his agility, quickness, and balance, will be key. However, much like Toure, there's something intriguing about his raw physical tools. He can be really tough to knock off the puck and he shows well as a playmaker after holding possession deep in the offensive zone. I could definitely see an NHL team selecting Dylan this year.
Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically):
Ryan Abraham - Center - Windsor Spitfires
Unique player who battled a wrist injury this year, limiting him to only 29 games. When he was healthy, he looked great. Small, but competitive player who is as slippery as an eel thanks to dynamic edgework. Small sample size saw him be way more confident with the puck this year. Hopefully he stays healthy next year.
Alex Christopoulous - Wing - Windsor Spitfires
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year. He's not huge, but he's a near immovable object from the net front. Just takes constant abuse but battles to be a presence and has great hands in tight and a quick release from the slot. Skating needs to continue to improve, but he's putting himself on the scouting radar. 49 goals this year and many came from within a few feet.
Pano Fimis - Center - Erie Otters
Don't think he's done enough to warrant a draft selection at this time, but Erie is going to be a good spot for him to develop further. Improved as a two-way player this year. Looked stronger on the puck. He needs to produce consistently to be on the NHL radar at his size. Look for him to have a much better season next year.
Jacob Frasca - Center - Barrie Colts
Massively improved player this year. That first line with Vierling and Cardwell (and Frasca) was an absolute load to handle on a lot of nights. They just grinded down opposing defenders with their work down low. The big center is on a career trajectory similar to his brother Jordan who signed with Pittsburgh last year.
Ruslan Gazizov - Wing - London Knights
After a disappointing draft year with London last year, Gazizov has been much better this year, even if the production is only mildly better. Skating has shown improvement but will need to continue to get better. Physical intensity more consistent, but will need to increase even more. Skill level is high. Have a feeling that if he returns to London again next year that he's going to have a big year.
Linus Hemstrom - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Hemstrom was really good in the first half, but faded big time in the second half. Physically, he wasn't the same player down the stretch. Like the quickness. Like the tenacity. He just needs to get stronger on and off the puck. I know he lost a lot of development time coming into this year (part of why he chose to come to the OHL). Hemstrom is someone that I'd be watching very closely next year.
Jacob Julien - Wing - London Knights
Late bloomer who barely misses out on being first time draft eligible this year thanks to a September 12th birth date. He's been a great find for London and has really stabilized their bottom six since joining the team around midseason. Big, rangy winger who is really effective North/South. Loves to drive the net. Has big strides that need to gain more power, but with the right development, he could be a player. I've certainly heard some chatter about NHL interest here in the same vein as the aforementioned Toure and Roobroeck.
Zak Lavoie - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
A real bulldog on the ice who has great for Niagara after coming over from Mississauga. He's not the biggest, but he competes hard. Good forechecker and someone with great goal scoring potential. Not a true draft prospect at this time IMO, but if he develops well, he'll get an NHL contract ala Tye Kartye in the future.
Jacob Maillet - Center - Windsor Spitfires
Say what you will about Windsor's disappointing end to the year, but their regular season was a success thanks to the positive development of players like Maillet. He's a good two-way center who has improved his skating a lot since entering the OHL with Guelph. The offensive upside at the NHL level wouldn't be high, but I could see him developing into a useful NHL player under the right circumstances. He'd probably be #11 for me on this list if I had one.
Samuel Mayer - Defense - Peterborough Petes
I liked Mayer a lot last year as a potential draft pick, but I didn't see a ton of progression in his game this year. I had higher expectations. Thought his decision making wavered with the puck and his vision as a powerplay QB didn't show a ton of growth. He's still a solid two-way guy and I still think he has NHL upside, but I wanted just a bit more from him this year after being slighted last year.
Max Namestnikov - Wing - Guelph Storm
Vladislav's younger brother was a different player after that trade to Guelph. He's skilled. He's feisty. He's quick. He can fire the puck. Still unsure about the IQ, especially with the puck on his stick. At his size, I'd want to see a full year of production before using a draft pick on him.
Marko Sikic - Wing/Center - Sarnia Sting
Sikic is essentially Jacob Maillet without the high end ice time. He's a rangy forward who excels at both ends and who shows well as a playmaker. I would expect him to be one of the league's better OA's next year when he gets a ton of ice time following graduations.
Patrick Thomas - Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
The third wheel on that Panwar/Lardis line that was so good for the Bulldogs down the stretch. My colleague at McKeen's, Joely Stockl, loves him because of his work ethic and offensive zone awareness. He's one of those guys who always seems to make the right play with the puck in the offensive zone. Reminds me a lot of former Ottawa 67 Austen Keating.
Florian Xhekaj - Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
Continues to be ranked highly by NHL Central Scouting but I'm not sure that I'm buying it. This is coming from someone who absolutely loved his brother Arber, right from the get go (check the history of the blog). Yeah he was a solid high energy checker in his first OHL season. He competes hard like his brother. He shows flashes of potential as an offensive contributor. But I'd want to see more before committing a draft pick to him. You can't just automatically assume that because Arber's development was so steady, year after year, that Florian's will be too.