On Tuesday, NHL CSS released it’s futures list for both North American and European skaters. While 18 OHLers were named to the list, understandably all the talk was about Connor McDavid: the former Mr. Exceptional who’s hoping to beat Jack Eichel to the title of Mr. Number One.
Needless to say, if you think you’ve heard a lot about McDavid since he entered the OHL, you ain’t seen nothing yet. All of the hype that bubbled up during his OHL Draft year will pale in comparison to what’s about to come, especially with the 2015 World Juniors taking place on Canadian soil.
But the Marvelous Mr. McDavid isn’t all the OHL has to offer. Again there were 18 skates on that list, which left the OHL just behind the QMJHL and WHL as the most-represented league (both had 19 apiece). So who were the other 17 on the list? Glad you asked….
Mackenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie Colts: A very late 1996 birthday, Blackwood played 2012/13 with the Elmira Sugar Kings (GOJHL) before moving on to the OHL this year. A strong training camp earned him a spot amongst an early three-goalie rotation, and strong play early in the regular season (combined with the struggles of Alex Fotinos and Daniel Gibl) saw the 6’4″, 204lbs Blackwood take the starting job and run with it. He ended up playing 45 games in 13/14, going 23-15-1 with a 2.98 GAA and a 0.902 save percentage.
Doug Blaisdell, D, Kitchener Rangers: A big defender that skates well with a big shot, Blaisdell made it into 49 games on a Rangers team that faced an uphill battle for much of the year. With a season under his belt, expect the 6’3″, 206lbs defender to make steady improvements at both ends of the ice, and to continue to put his size to good use. His height and weight alone will have scouts showing up to the building.
Travis Dermott, D, Erie Otters: One of three Otters that scouts will be showing up to see this year, Dermott is another late birthday who took advantage of an extra season. After spending 12/13 with the Newmarket Hurricanes (OJHL) and putting up 15 points in 53 games, the former 9th-round pick scored three goals and added 25 assists for the Otters in 67 games, while adding five points in 14 playoff games. Dermott’s play earned him a spot on the blueline on the OHL’s All-Rookie First Team, while also being a finalist for the OHL’s Rookie of the Year award.
Vince Dunn, D, Niagara IceDogs: Another late birthday making the ranks is Dunn, who put up 33 points (5G/28A) in 63 games for the IceDogs. Dunn played key minutes the year before at Jr. B Thorold, and was ready to make an impact when it came to the OHL this year. The defender likes to go up ice with the play and is constantly trying to make things happen, and Head Coach Marty Williamson has high hopes for the talented Dunn.
Justin Lemcke, D, Belleville Bulls: A first round pick in 2013, Lemcke played in 50 games for the Bulls, adding two goals and 13 assists. Coming in at 6’2″ and around 200lbs, he’s another guy with good size on the blueline. One of the things that the Bulls liked about Lemcke when he was drafted was his leadership qualities, but he’s athletic as well. Lemcke could have gone south to play Lacrosse but instead chose the hockey route with the Bulls. He’s also a guy who embraces the Olympic-size ice that he plays on for home games. He will be attending Team Canada’s U-18 selection camp in Calgary.
Mitchell Vande Sompel, D, Oshawa Generals: Another first-round OHLer (14th overall) coming off of a very good rookie year, Vande Sompel joined Travis Dermott on the OHL’s All-Rookie First Team, showcasing a very broad skillset. Vande Sompel learned plenty during the Generals run to the Eastern Conference Final, and will have a busy summer coming up with training and attending Team Canada’s U-18 selection camp in Calgary.
Connor Walters, D, Owen Sound Attack: After splitting last year between Welland (GOJHL) and Owen Sound, Walters will be an interesting player to watch this year. A good season in Welland (37GP, 3G, 19A) was interrupted a few times by call-ups to the Attack, where he earned one assist in 15 games. Walters is expected to be with the Attack full-time this season, and worked hard to develop in Jr. B last year so he could be ready to take that next step.
Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston Frontenacs: The 2013 5th-overall pick, Crouse is looking to follow in the steps of Sam Bennett, Roland McKeown and Spencer Watson when it comes to hearing his name called at the NHL Draft. Crouse is a big forward at 6’3″ and 200lbs who finished last year with 15 goals and 12 assists for the Frontenacs. A candidate for the Rookie of the Year award and a second-team All Rookie, Crouse looks like he might be a dangerous power-forward in the making (he added 64 penalty minutes and four fights to his totals this year). Crouse will also be headed to Calgary for Team Canada’s U-18 camp.
Sam Harding, C, Oshawa Generals: The Oshawa Generals have a habit of developing quality forwards, specifically centres, and Sam Harding may be next in line. It wasn’t a huge year offensively for Harding (3G/11A in 63 games), but that’s because he was learning the value of playing two-way hockey under DJ Smith and Scott Laughton. Harding will also be off to Calgary for Team Canada’s U-18 camp.
Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67’s: If it wasn’t for Connor McDavid, then you’d be hearing a whole lot more about Travis Konecny. The 67’s centre was the leading rookie scorer (70 points), first-team All-Rookie by a landslide (one of two players with 80+ votes, only one with 90), and a runaway for rookie of the year. Konecny is also headed to Calgary this summer, and will have a whole lot of scouts descending on Ottawa this year.
Nikita Korostelev, RW, Sarnia Sting: A ninth overall pick in 2013, Korostelev could join a growing list of high-end, highly drafted Russian talent to come out of Sarnia recently. Korostolev wasn’t an import because he moved to Canada on his own, two years before being drafted into the OHL to pursue his hockey career. He brought a great shot and high-end hockey sense with him too. He’s a bright player and could really jump up the draft rankings this year.
Mitchell Marner, C, London Knights: Marner was the most interesting rookie last year to me. Similar to Michael Dal Colle, Marner started his OHL career on a deep team, but kept playing well enough to earn quality minutes. He didn’t slow down the entire season, and ended up second in points by a rookie (59) and first in assists (46). Word was if his name came up in trade talks, it was pretty much a non-starter for London, and for good reason. Marner will also be off to Calgary this summer after earning a nomination for OHL Rookie of the Year and a place on the All-Rookie second team.
Hayden McCool, C, Niagara IceDogs: McCool is the second IceDog to land on this list, and may have the best name out of anyone. The 6’3″ forward has a good-sized frame to grow into, which could be troublesome for opposing defenders this year. McCool had a bit of a slow start to his OHL career with just three points in his first 23 games, and added nine points (including his first two goals) over his last 37. McCool has punched his ticket for Calgary as well.
Brett McKenzie, C, North Bay Battalion: The first pick the Battalion made when they moved to North Bay was Brett McKenzie, and he’s hoping to be the first player to start his OHL career for the NBB and work his way up to being drafted into the NHL. McKenzie is another player who learns the ropes of two-way hockey under Stan Butler, but also flashed some offence in his first season. McKenzie notched 13 goals and 10 assists in his first 63 OHL games, and added six points in 22 playoff games en route to the OHL finals. He’ll be heading to Team Canada’s U-18 camp in Calgary as well.
David Miller, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: Miller will be entering his third OHL season (second full season) for the Greyhounds this year and is hoping to keep his steady improvement going. In 2012/13, Miller got into just five games for the ‘Hounds, but picked up three assists in the process. Last year, Miller played in 63 games for the Soo, picking up 18 goals and 19 assists, while amassing a pretty impressive point streak. He’s a smaller forward at just 5’9″, but if he continues to put up points this year it really shouldn’t matter (but probably will to some teams).
Dante Salituro, C, Ottawa 67’s: Salituro shares some similarities to Miller: Both are ‘undersized’ by today’s standards and both have late birthdays. For Salituro, he’s coming off his second full OHL season and any durability questions stemming from his 5’8″ frame should be put to rest. He’s missed just four games during his OHL career, and has 99 points (36G/63A) through those 132 contests. While he’s electric on the ice…he should probably be thankful that the Canadian Media Draft is not a thing. He probably wouldn’t be the first reporter off the board.
Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters: The third Erie Otter on this list, Strome was another player who thrived despite being on a deep team. The second overall pick from 2013, Strome put up 39 points in 60 games, and was a point shy of cracking the top five in rookie scoring. While he was excited for the chance to go to Erie and reunite with McDavid when he was drafted, scouts will be just as excited to go and watch the two of them cause trouble all over the OHL this season. Strome will also be attending the U-18 Selection Camp in Calgary, and is the next in the line of what could be becoming a family legacy.
Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who’s covered the OHL from rink side and the broadcast booth. He’s also filed feature reports on the OHL for the past three seasons. You can follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.