It's the end of August and that means a new OHL season is right around the corner. It also means that it's time for me to release my first draft ranking for 2024. To assess these players we've seen them in the OHL (mostly) and for some we've seen them at the U17's and at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. Unfortunately, the lack of training camp for the Hlinka (due to Hockey Canada budget cuts) has prevented us from getting a glimpse of improvements made by other players on this list heading into the season, but thems the breaks.
Of course, a ton is going to change between now and the actual 2024 draft. A lot will likely change before I make my first in season list in October/November. Here was last year's preseason list, as an example.
How would I classify this year's potential OHL crop? Very strong. The defense for this group is outstanding, possessing the potential to be among the best group of blueliners ever from the OHL, rivaling the 2008 draft when the OHL had five first round picks from the back-end. I mean, the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup was evidence of this as nearly all of Canada's blueline came from Ontario. The forwards are not quite as strong, but I'm sure a few will really step up and emerge as first round candidates.
Here's the list:
1. Sam Dickinson - Defense - London Knights
Honestly, prior to the Hlinka/Gretzky, it was a toss up for me between Dickinson and Henry Mews. But Dickinson was so unbelievably good at that event, he made this a no brainer for me. This is a defender who has pretty much everything going for him. Think if Darnell Nurse and Alex Pietrangelo merged via cloning. He skates very well for a bigger defender. He is so poised in the defensive end with the puck, starting the breakout with ease, even in the face of pressure. He competes hard physically. He has a great stick in the defensive end. He has a booming point shot. He has first pairing NHL workhorse written all over him. This year in London, it will be interesting to see how his confidence as a puck mover grows. Will he be given a leash to take chances in transition, using his feet and hands to lead the breakout? I believe yes. Last year we saw Cam Allen start the year in this position and then falter under high expectations. I don't expect that to happen to Dickinson. I'll be shocked if he's not a top ten pick in June.
2. Henry Mews - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Mews may not be quite as polished as Dickinson, but his upside as a top pairing NHL defender is similar. A coveted right shot defender, Mews is extremely skilled. He has an aggressive offensive mindset and is constantly looking to push the tempo from the back-end. Does that lead to some miscues? Absolutely. He'll need to look to improve his decision making this year. He can be turnover prone in the defensive end as he tries to force things. Sometimes the high percentage, but "boring" play is the right move, especially in the face of a heavy forecheck. I do believe that Mews sees the ice well though and that with experience, he'll develop into a top notch playmaker. From a defensive perspective, he can be a high end player. He doesn't have the elite reach that Dickinson does, but he is mobile, competes hard, and shows strong understanding of how to defend the middle already. This year, as mentioned, it will be completely about assessing Mews' ability to process the game under pressure.
3. Beckett Sennecke - Wing - Oshawa Generals
Let's forget the puzzling Hlinka/Gretzky omission. I think Sennecke enters the year as the top forward available from the OHL. What I love most about his game is his sense and vision. He's such a quick processor in the offensive end. That was evident even as an OHL rookie. At times, he seems a step ahead of the competition, making quick one touch passes or finding those soft spots as a passing option. He's got great hands, flashes high end creativity, and is a strong finisher. Throw all that in a 6'2 frame and you have a potential top six winger at the next level. So what am I looking for this year? The first thing would be improving his skating. I wouldn't classify Sennecke as a poor skater. However, I think a lack of a dynamic burst was evident last year and it prevented him from getting consistent separation from defenders. Additionally, I'm looking for him to improve the consistency of his physical intensity level. Can he be stronger on pucks down low? Can he turn himself into a strong three zone player? Given that I expect Oshawa to improve this year, I have high expectations for Sennecke.
4. Zayne Parekh - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Parekh was already one of the most exciting defenders in the OHL last year as a rookie. He set a new league U17 goal scoring record by a defender with 21 goals. Parekh is pure chaos on the ice with how aggressive he is offensively. He scored a few breakaway goals last year and I think that tells you everything you need to know about him. The Saginaw system, which encourages free flow (essentially experimenting with positionless hockey), is perfect for him, just as it was for Pavel Mintyukov, encouraging his creativity with the puck. As a result, his offensive upside is immense. Outside of his puck skill and vision, Parekh's four way mobility is also an asset. He's terrific on his edges, giving him that elusiveness in tight spaces to help him evade pressure. The million dollar question is, how does Parekh's game transition to the next level? Given his lack of size, can he defend at the NHL level? Will he be as successful in the NHL in a different system that does not promote the kind of freedom that he has in Saginaw? I know that there is skepticism in the scouting community, even if he has his fans too. Right now, the talent is too strong to ignore and he deserves to be ranked accordingly. The points will be there again this year, but the real test will be the improvements that he makes in the defensive end.
5. Anthony Cristoforo - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Cristoforo is kind of a similar player to Parekh. He shines most in the offensive end currently thanks to his combination of high end skill and high end vision. Even as an OHL rookie, it was rare to see Cristoforo make a poor decision with the puck. He's calm under pressure. He trusts his feet and his vision, always keeping his head up and on a swivel. His upside as a powerplay quarterback is terrific. And while he's certainly a bit bigger than Parekh, there are similar concerns over his ability to defend at the next level. Can he find consistent success in high traffic areas as an OHL sophomore, becoming more difficult to play against? Given his high IQ and his quick feet, he doesn't have to be a bruiser, but increasing his aggressiveness is a must. Given Canada's depth at the Hlinka/Gretzky, he didn't have a great opportunity to show how good he is to a larger audience, but he should have a really strong year with the Spitfires as a lead defender.
6. Liam Greentree - Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Speaking of the Spitfires, insert big winger Liam Greentree. He was so good as an OHL rookie last year. He has really good hands for a bigger winger and his skating is a non issue. He plays well in transition and finishes off plays well in tight with a quick release. Last year, he already showed an ability to fight off checks and pressure to make plays down low, and as he gains further strength, he could be a really tough player to separate from the puck. So what's the next step this year? Like most second year forwards it's proving that he can be a primary play driver and not just a complementary piece. Can he be a consistent force with the puck who can create by driving the net with speed and power? Can he continue to develop physically and incorporate power forward esque tendencies into his approach?
7. Parker Von Richter - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Definitely a personal favourite of mine early in this 2024 scouting process. Improved by leaps and bounds over the course of his rookie season and was playing top four minutes, well over 20 minutes a night by the playoffs for Mississauga. His strength lies in his play in the defensive end. He shows a really strong understanding of how to defend. Von Richter is one of those players who is always in the right position, showing great poise and anticipation already as a young defender. As the season went on, he gained confidence in his ability to use his size/strength down low and near the crease too. Critical for any strong defensive presence, Von Richter also showed well with the puck in the defensive end, especially in the second half. He started the breakout effectively and was calm in the face of forecheckers. There are two big questions though. 1) Can his skating improve further? I wouldn't call it a weakness, but there were instances last year where a lack of quickness/efficiency in his stride hurt him. Improving his footwork will be the key to him becoming a true defensive standout. 2) What's the offensive upside? We saw him start to gain confidence in his puck moving abilities late last year and I do believe that he has the ability to contribute offensively. But is that a skill that has the potential to carry over? Can't wait to see how he looks this year.
8. Frankie Marrelli - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Late last season, it was like the light bulb switched on for Marrelli. He was better than Henry Mews in the playoffs last year and that carried into this summer's Hlinka/Gretzky when I thought Marrelli was one of Canada's best defenders. He's not a huge defender, but he's tough to play against already. He's very competitive and has a penchant for the big hit, as he looks to step up on attackers early. His lateral and backwards mobility are excellent and it allows him to be a terrific rush defender, when you combine that with his aggressive, suffocating approach. Offensively, I think Marrelli has more to offer us thanks to strong vision and decision making. How skilled is he? That will be the big question mark this year. Given his average size, NHL teams will be looking for him to become a strong two-way presence as 6'0 stay at home types are not the most coveted.
9. Ben Danford - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Danford didn't have the best Hlinka/Gretzky Cup, but you can't overlook how steady he was for the rebuilding Generals last year. A lot of those weak puck plays that we saw at the Hlinka did not happen last year and I think that points to a young man who was pressing a bit under the pressure of the event and the scouting presence. If anything, I thought Danford's decision making with the puck, especially in the offensive zone, was a strength as a rookie. He holds the offensive blueline well. Danford also defends well, using strong skating ability to stay ahead of attackers. Like a few others on this list, he doesn't have elite size/reach, but he showed well as a rookie with a good stick and anticipation. The key for Danford will be shaking that dreaded, "jack of all trades" label. Here we have an average sized defender who looks good at both ends, but who currently lacks a tool that I would label as well above average. Those can be the types that look great as OHL rookies, but who then fail to take that next step as others catch up to them physically. Right now, he very much deserves to be ranked in this range, but progression will be needed at both ends in order for him to hold this spot.
10. Cole Beaudoin - Center - Barrie Colts
The surprise of the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup as one of Canada's best and most consistent players. Last year as an OHL rookie, I thought he largely looked over his head. His lack of dynamic skating really held him back and kept him behind the play. But the player we saw at the Hlinka/Gretzky looked like a potential NHL first round selection. Firstly, it's obvious that improving his skating was a focus this offseason. His linear quickness and speed looked considerably improved. It allowed Beaudoin to be a dynamite forechecker and penalty killer. There's definitely still room for him to improve his agility and East/West movement, but Rome wasn't built in a day. What Beaudoin is, is a potential all situations, two-way center. I'm very curious to see how he carves out a larger role in Barrie this season.
11. Jack Van Volsen - Center/Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
The need for Van Volsen is simple. Get stronger. Get quicker. Anyone who saw Van Volsen play for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens knows that he is one of the most skilled players in the age group. However, I felt that he wasn't able to truly play his hard working style of game last year because he was consistently outmuscled off the puck. This resulted in him being primarily a complementary piece who relied on others to make plays for him, which certainly wasn't the case as a U16 player. Let's see if he put in the work this offseason to take his game to another level. Can he get back to dominating shifts in the cycle, dominating the net front, and being a primary play driver? It should also be noted that Van Volsen has a terrific shot and high end scoring potential. Among any forward on this list, his offensive upside might be the highest.
12. Luke Misa - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
Admittedly, I came away disappointed in Misa's development last year as a sophomore. Part of it was ice time related, but I also felt like his game didn't truly take that next step. Luckily for him, he's a late birthday, which means he is first time NHL draft eligible this year and that gives him another year to prove his chops. The backbone of Misa's game is his skating ability. He is absolutely dynamic in transition because of his speed. Misa is also a competent two-way player who is committed on the backcheck and who has the opportunity to develop into a really good penalty killer because of his speed and tenaciousness. Can Misa's offensive game take that next step this year though? Will the hands catch up to the feet? Can he be stronger on the puck to create when the game slows down and show an ability to get to the net consistently? Surrounded by some great young talent in Mississauga, he's going to be set up with a really nice opportunity to show that he deserves to be highly thought of for this draft.
13. Nathan Villeneuve - Center - Sudbury Wolves
A true power center in every sense of the word. Villeneuve was as advertised as an OHL rookie for Sudbury. The tenacious style that he was drafted for translated perfectly, even if the offensive production was inconsistent (mostly due to inconsistent ice time/responsibility). He loves to throw the body and is relentless in his pursuit of the puck. This work ethic translates to the defensive end where he is already an asset as a young center. Offensively, Villeneuve's best asset would probably be his shot, but he flashes high end skill on net drives and is very middle of the ice/attack oriented. The big thing for me is improving his skating. With a bit of a wide stride, Villeneuve doesn't have elite speed or quickness currently. It will be curious to see how that's improved this year. With improvements to his strength and quickness, he could move quickly up draft boards, especially with the second line center role in Sudbury all but locked up.
14. Kevin He - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
Turbulent times for the IceDogs these days, but He was a serious bright spot for them last year. His combination of speed and goal scoring prowess makes him a very interesting prospect heading into this draft year. Along with Misa, he's the best skater of the forwards available in this OHL crop. Everything about him screams high end goal scorer. He can really fire the puck. He can score in multiple ways. He creates his own chances by driving wide. He gets to the net and is not a perimeter player. Can the playmaking ability take that next step this year? What about the off puck play? How will he handle playing in a difficult environment in Niagara in his NHL draft year? Lots of question marks, but He possesses significant upside.
15. Matthew Virgillio - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
It wasn't easy for Virgillio in his first year given the Soo's position at the bottom of the standings. But he played a lot for them and largely held his own. The highly touted former St. Andrew's College product has immense potential, probably more than some of the defenders I've got ranked ahead of him. He is a strong skater who can have a positive impact on the transition game. He can quarterback the powerplay. He defends well and should develop into a quality two-way player as he adds strength. It's about putting it all together consistently as the Greyhounds improve. I thought about putting him higher, especially given the Soo's track record for developing defenders, but I think it's important to see what he shows this year first. I want to see how his game evolves around an improving Greyhounds team.
16. Jakub Chromiak - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Thought it was fitting to have Chromiak and Virgillio back to back here given their upsides as offensive defenders. The difference for me is that Virgillio is a year younger. The younger brother of former OHL standout (and LA prospect) Martin Chromiak, Jakub is a skilled puck moving defender who will be entering his second OHL season thanks to his late 2005 birth date. His rookie year was mired by inconsistency. But that's the case for a lot of OHL rookie defenders, and even more so for rookie Import defenders. So we're giving Chromiak a bit of the benefit of doubt here that those flashes turn into something more significant this year. The hype is certainly there and rightfully so given his offensive upside thanks to his combination of skill and mobility. However, I'm going to need to see significant improvement at both ends in order for him to hold this position. And given that I've got him 15th, I'm obviously lower on him than some of my contemporaries who have him in their first round currently.
17. Luca Marrelli - Defense - Oshawa Generals
The cousin of the 67's defender of the same name also appearing on this list, Luca is actually a similar kind of defender. He shows promise as a two-way defenseman and is a little ahead of some of the other players on this list due to his late 2005 birthday. He was probably Oshawa's best defender from start to finish last year. Love his poise in the offensive end when he's working the point. He shows great anticipation and vision holding the line and he generally keeps things simple to help Oshawa keep pressure on. Defensively, he's solid. Not as physical as his cousin Frankie, but he has a bit more length to help him apply stick pressure. I'm also not sure that he's as strong a skater as Frankie, but I wouldn't call it a weakness for Luca either. Like any later born player entering the draft year, it can be tough to evaluate him in comparison. I'm sure we'll get a better idea about his upside this season.
18. Lukas Fischer - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Played a little over a half a season with Sarnia after coming over from the USHL and he seemed to get better with each passing month. The athletic tools are going to be very intriguing this year given his bloodlines (son of former NHL defender Jiri) and his late birthday (September 9th, making him one of the youngest players eligible this year). The 6'4 defender shows great potential at both ends. But his game and decision making are very raw, making it difficult to truly ascertain what kind of player he can become as of now. This is someone who is still trying to figure out how to get the best out of his tools. It would have been great to see him make the U.S. Hlinka team, but he was ultimately cut. I think the key for him is improving his skating, especially the fluidity of his four-way movement. If he plays well for Sarnia this year, he'll move quickly up draft lists.
19. Riley Patterson - Center - Barrie Colts
I loved Patterson as a U16 player with the Mississauga Sens and he proceeded to have one of the better U17 seasons in recent memory in the OJHL last year. He left his commitment to Michigan State to sign with Barrie following a trade from Flint and should be a big part of Barrie's plans the next few years. But what can we expect this year in his draft year and where should we rank him? This seems like a pretty safe ranking given how he has yet to prove himself in the OHL, but if he plays well, I can tell you right now that I'll be moving him up my list pretty aggressively. He brings speed. He brings tenaciousness as a two-way player. He is skilled. He makes his linemates better with his vision and creativity. Patterson has the upside to be the best forward from the OHL from this crop. But for every Mark Scheifele who has transitioned seamlessly from the OJHL as a 17/18 year old, there have been others who struggled (such as Brenden Sirizzotti recently).
20. Gabriel Frasca - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
It almost feels criminal to have Frasca this low coming into the year. He was solid as a rookie for Kingston, earning a spot on the second all rookie team. And of course, he was terrific with the same Mississauga Sens team others on this list came from. Gabriel is unquestionably the best skater at the same age of the talented Frasca brothers. Still, that will be the focal point of improvement for Gabriel as he enters his sophomore season with the Frontenacs. Frasca is an intelligent and well rounded player. He shows well at both ends already. He has a great touch as a passer. He is a dual threat as a goal scorer. However, I also feel that his athletic tools may be a little less refined than some of the other forwards on this list. Is he the next Logan Morrison, Austen Keating type? Frasca isn't quite as physical and powerful as the likes of Villeneuve, Beaudoin, and Greentree. And he's not as quick as the likes of He and Patterson. Let's see how everything comes together for him this season.
21. Carter George - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
George was excellent for Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup, stepping in for Gabriel D'Aigle to assume the starter's role. He provided the security and consistency the team needed in helping them capture gold. In reality, this should have come as no surprise as George was excellent in limited OHL action last year too. He's quick in the crease and is a great play tracker. He already does a good job of controlling his rebounds and limits second chances accordingly. It seems pretty likely to me that he's going to end up being an annual Jim Rutherford candidate (top OHL goaltender of the year) until he graduates. However, is he going to be highly coveted at the NHL draft? He's definitely on the smaller side for netminders, coming in at 6'0 currently. I would also say that having watched him last year and at the Hlinka, one of the things that he needs to work on is playing more aggressive in the crease to challenge shooters and fight through screens. He's definitely worthy of being listed on this preseason list, but is he going to get the Thomas Milic treatment?
22. AJ Spellacy - Wing/Center - Windsor Spitfires
One of my absolute favourite OHL rookies last year. It was a real shame that his season was cut short due to a knee injury. It was surprising to see him return so early as he made the U.S. team for the Hlinka/Gretzky...but surprising in a good way. Do I think he was great at the tournament? It certainly wasn't the best that I've seen him. However, it's only one small blip on the scouting radar and I think you need to take into account that this was his first action coming off a significant injury. So what do you get in Spellacy? You get an aggressive and tenacious forward who loves to throw the body and who loves to push the pace of play. He has a clear understanding of how he wants to play and how he needs to play in order to be effective. It will be interesting to see how the knee injury affects his skating upon his return. I liked his top speed as a rookie, but there's no question that there was room for improvement in explosiveness and agility. Additionally, I think we'll need to get a better read on his offensive upside and skill level with the puck. But he's entering the year as a personal favourite. Easy to see him developing into...at the very least...an Austin Watson type of player at the pro level (also a former U.S. based Spitfire).
23. Jett Luchanko - Wing - Guelph Storm
Another guy (similar to Spellacy) that I wanted to put higher, but just couldn't justify it at this current moment given the uncertainty surrounding his offensive upside. I love the effort and engagement without the puck. He stepped into the league and had an immediate impact as a forechecker with his speed. He just needs to get stronger to be able to use that speed more effectively in all three zones, something that I imagine we'll see this season. Is he more than just a high energy, checking type? I think so. I saw enough flashes of offensive ability, specifically his vision and ability to create plays for his linemates as a playmaker, to suggest that he can take his game to another level. He's not the biggest guy in the world so he'll need to produce to hold down a spot as a draft candidate.
24. Ryerson Leenders - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
He played a ton as an OHL rookie. It's pretty rare to see a U17 goalie play as much as he did. In fact, his 35 games were the fifth most all time by a U17 netminder. Leenders was the third goalie for Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky, but he didn't get into any game action unfortunately. Like Carter George, he's an athletic kid who shows great promise as a play tracker. Has that ability to make the highlight reel save. And like George, he's not blessed with great size at a position where size seems to be extremely critical for NHL scouts. Additionally, I'm not sure the technical components of Leenders game are quite as advanced as George's. He's still working to improve his positioning and control to improve his consistency. He should split starts with fellow highly touted netminder Jack Ivankovic this year, a great position for the organization to be in having two terrific young goalies in the fold.
25. David Egorov - Goaltender - Brantford Bulldogs
I definitely believe that Egorov deserves to be listed alongside George and Leenders as a preseason contender to be in the NHL draft mix. He might be the most athletic and the quickest of the three. While he didn't play much in the OHL last year, he was sensational for the Hamilton Kilty B's last year (GOJHL) in trying to help them capture a Sutherland Cup. He's also the biggest of the three netminders. There's definitely still a bit of mystique here as we wait to see how he can translate to a full year of OHL hockey, so for that reason he's third among the three goalies. However, it wouldn't shock me at all if by next June we were talking about Egorov as the top ranked goalie from Ontario. The real question is will he get the ice time that he needs given Brantford's goalie depth? Personally, I'd roll with Drobac and Egorov and work to find a new home for Malboeuf.
26. Kieron Walton - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
The upside here is enormous. You've got a big winger (6'5 already) with soft hands, creativity, and a scorer's touch. For a big kid, he also moves pretty well. Raw is the best way to describe him, but if/when he puts it all together...look out. The concern lies within the physical intensity level. It was the knock against him as a U16 player (causing him to fall to the second round). It was also evident in his rookie OHL year. He needs to use that size to find the middle and play through traffic more consistently. He doesn't have to be Mason McTavish. He just has to play with a little more tenaciousness. If he can up that dial and improve his production this year, he'll move up draft lists quickly.
27. Ethan Procyszyn - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Procyszyn is another player who will move up the board quickly if he can find that next level of production. He has a projectable frame. He competes hard at both ends. He skates well. He had a great scorer's touch in U16 and flashed a high end shot as an OHL rookie. There is lots to like. In reality, he's the kind of player that North Bay has developed well historically. I thought about putting him higher and I feel confident in saying that he'd be higher on the early list of NHL scouts, but I just want to see if he can secure a larger role and produce at a greater clip first.
28. Marek Vanacker - Wing - Brantford Bulldogs
Power winger who showed great flashes last year as an OHL rookie with limited ice time. It's obvious that he wasn't strong enough to play the way that he wanted to play last year, so it will be interesting to see how the offseason treated him. However, he's a bit similar to Procysyn in that he's a potential two-way, high energy, goal scorer. He should get a larger role this year with Brantford and he's someone to monitor closely early on.
29. Kaden Pitre - Center/Wing - Flint Firebirds
If you liked Coulson Pitre, you're bound to like his brother Kaden. They play pretty comparable games revolved around power, IQ, and tenaciousness. Kaden has played some center and it seems likely (given Flint's depth) that he does play there full time this year. I think that probably increases his value. Let's see how kind the offseason was to him in terms of improving strength and quickness.
30. Alex Kostov - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
I could have gone in a variety of different routes with #30. I saw the top 29 as pretty set, and then deciding on number 30 was tough. However, I settled on Kostov (over more hyped former first round selections) because I think he has a solid NHL projection given his size and skill combination on the wing. Improving his skating and strength will be needed this year, but the frame and raw athletic tools are extremely intriguing.
Caden Kelly - Wing - Ottawa 67's
Antonio Tersigni - Wing - Owen Sound Attack
Luca Testa - Center - Brantford Bulldogs
Carter Lowe - Wing - Barrie Colts
Charlie Paquette - Wing - Guelph Storm
Christopher Thibodeau - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
Zach Sandhu - Defense - Guelph Storm
Noah Roberts - Defense - Brantford Bulldogs
Callum Cheynowski - Defense - Brantford Bulldogs
Ben Cormier - Wing/Center - Owen Sound Attack
Sam O'Reilly - Wing - London Knights