The Ontario Hockey League continues to grow in prominence at the NHL Draft every year, with a total of 37 players (good enough for 17 per cent of all draftees) being selected at the 2013 draft.
The early indications this season are that the OHL will again feed a healthy crop of players into next summer’s draft.
Here are the top five draft-eligible players to watch for this season in the Ontario Hockey League.
Barrie Colts, Defenceman
Will Ekblad go first overall? Doubtful. It’s the same debate that has been mulled over since Erik Johnson was a relative bust as a defenceman who went first overall back in 2006. Since then, we’ve seen Victor Hedman, Adam Larsson and, most recently, Seth Jones — who dropped to fourth this past summer — get passed over with the No. 1 pick.
However, the truth is that Ekblad does deserve to go first in next year’s draft.
Mature beyond his years, he is already a man-mountain at 6-foot-4 and 217-lbs, and is equally adept at quarterbacking a power play as he is shutting one down. A native of Belle River, Ont., Ekblad is a virtual lock for the world juniors, possessing tremendous leadership intangibles – he was named captain of the Colts, even though he doesn’t hit 18 years of age until next February. The mobile blueliner is entering his third year in the OHL after being the first to receive exceptional status as a 15-year-old under the ‘John Tavares rule.’
The only knock on him is that he isn’t as nasty as NHL clubs like from big defenders.
Kingston Frontenacs, Forward
The first of a trio of draft-eligible prospects in Kingston, Bennett is the mature, responsible player that coaches dream of. A native of Holland Landing, Ont., the 6-foot, 181-lbs played on Connor McDavid’s wing in minor midget and got exponentially better as his rookie season went on last year.
Is his talent as dynamic as other prospects like Willy Nylander, Sam Reinhart or Jakub Vrana? No, certainly not, but he knows where he has to be to score goals and his hands in tight are as good as anyone in this draft. He compliments elite talent exceptionally well due to his tremendous hockey sense and is getting experience as a centre this season with fellow high-level prospect Spencer Watson beside him.
Look for him to make the world junior team later this year, and then break Top 10 in the draft next summer.
Peterborough Petes, Forward
With big brother Brett’s professional career underway in the Dallas Stars’ organization, it’s time for scouts to realize that not-so-little brother Nick has a great chance of being the better Ritchie.
At a legitimate 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs, Ritchie already has an NHL-ready frame and is equally effective at creating offence from either wing. A native of Orangeville, Ont., he is at the centre of the Petes’ rebuild and if he stays healthy (he has struggled with shoulder injuries so far in his young career), he can be as impactful and productive as anyone in the OHL this season.
He could be a top-10 player with a great campaign but is most likely to go in the 10-15 spot. His character, physical dominance and versatility to play a checking or scoring role makes him an intriguing bet for the world juniors.
Kingston Frontenacs, Defenceman
After bulking up this off-season with Gary Roberts, McKeown — who was only the second overall pick in his OHL draft year because McDavid was granted exceptional status — is ready for the spotlight.
Now at 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs, the Listowel, Ont., native has exceptional composure and an uncanny knack to make plays in all three zones of the ice. Previously he used his stick and positioning to stymie opposing forwards on defence, but has added a physical edge to his game with an increase in size and fitness.
His Hockey Canada pedigree is already extensive, earning the rare U17 and U18 call in the same season and was equally reliable and effective at both. He also won gold this past summer at the Ivan Hlinka tournament with players of his own birth year.
His dependability is unquestioned, but what scouts will look for is actual numbers from the early 1996 birth year as the leader of the Frontenacs’ defence; and if he can produce, don’t be surprised with a top-10 selection.
Oshawa Generals, Forward
Dal Colle started his rookie campaign last season on the fourth line, but was playing with NHL first-round picks and veterans Boone Jenner and Tyler Biggs on Oshawa’s top unit barely a month in. At 6-foot-2 and 171 lbs, he has to fill out his frame, but his patience and instincts are miles ahead of where he should be at his age (June 1996 birth).
He has adapted well at playing in all situations, including moving to the wing after being a centre in minor midget, and the term ‘the sky is the limit’ has been thrown around by scouts analyzing the Richmond Hill, Ont., native.
Dal Colle has a rocket of a shot, is a great passer and though his skating isn’t elite, he gets to his spot through pure compete level. An NHL team would be happy to nab him in the middle of the first round next June.
- Jared McCann, Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds – Speedy offensive forward with superb vision and play-making ability
- Blake Clarke, North Bay Battalion – Hard-working winger with good size and a nasty release
- Spencer Watson, Kingston Frontenacs – Lightning release and a fantastic feel for creating offence
- Matthew Mistele, Plymouth Whalers – Good speed and balance, he finds the open spaces in the offensive zone extremely well