One player to watch on each team through the OHL playoffs

Brandt Clarke during his time with the Barrie Colts. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The OHL Playoffs are set to begin Thursday night as the journey to the J. Ross Robertson Cup gets under way.

Last year’s winners, the Hamilton Bulldogs, are ranked sixth in the East this season and draw the Barrie Colts in Round 1. Last year’s runners-up, the Windsor Spitfires, are a threat to win it all once again and finished up the regular season first in the Western Conference for the second season in a row. Shane Wright’s team draws the Kitchener Rangers in the opening round.

The Ottawa 67’s, who haven’t won an OHL championship since 2001, finished with the best record of any team in the league.

Here’s a look at all the first round matchups:

Eastern Conference

Ottawa 67’s vs. Oshawa Generals
North Bay Battalion vs. Mississauga Steelheads
Barrie Colts vs. Hamilton Bulldogs
Peterborough Petes vs. Sudbury Wolves

Western Conference

Windsor Spitfires vs. Kitchener Rangers
London Knights vs. Owen Sound Attack
Sarnia Sting vs. Guelph Storm
Saginaw Spirit vs. Flint Firebirds

The OHL has not won a Memorial Cup since the Oshawa Generals, London Knights and Windsor Spitfires went back-to-back-to-back from 2015-17. Who will be this year’s OHL representative for the tournament in Kamloops?

To get you set for the OHL playoffs, Sam Cosentino shares one player to watch closely on each team:

Pavel Mintyukov, D, Ottawa 67’s: Mintyukov went 10th overall to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2022 NHL draft. He led all CHL defencemen with 88 points on 24 goals and 64 assists. Saginaw was hoping to host the 2024 Memorial Cup (a bid they won this week) and knew Mintyukov was unlikely to return next season, so the Spirit moved him to Ottawa at the trade deadline for nine draft picks. The 67’s went 24-6-2 with Mintyukov in the lineup and he had multi-point efforts in 10 of the 32 games he’s played with Ottawa.

Calum Ritchie, LW, Oshawa Generals: Ritchie used the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament to springboard into Oshawa’s regular season, leading that tournament with 10 points en route to a gold medal. The second overall pick from the 2021 OHL Priority selection then put up 59 points in 59 games for the Generals this season, but played sporadically down the stretch as he dealt with shoulder issues. Despite the point production, scouts don’t have a complete book on Ritchie and hope to see him perform well in the playoffs, or get a look with Canada at the U18’s. 

Dom DiVincentiis, G, North Bay Battalion: Looks to be a steal for the Winnipeg Jets who selected DiVincentiis in the seventh round, 207th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. DiVincentiis captured the goalie triple crown, leading all OHL netminders in wins (36), GAA (2.33) and save percentage (.919). The Battalion won 11 straight to end the season, with DiVincentiis capturing all six of his March starts and allowing just six goals in that stretch. 

James Hardie, LW, Mississauga Steelheads: Only Windsor’s Matthew Maggio took more shots than Hardie’s 310 this season. Hardie, the Steelheads captain, completed his third 30-goal season, finishing the regular campaign with 38 goals and 82 points, good enough for 19th in the league. Having gone to two NHL rookie camps, the undrafted Hardie will look to make one final impression on scouts in this, his last OHL season. His 255 career games played ranks second on the Steelheads’ all-time list. 

Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts: Started the year with the L.A. Kings, where he played nine games and had two assists. He was returned to the OHL after winning gold with Canada at the world juniors and didn’t skip a beat, scoring 23 goals and 38 assists for 61 points in just 31 games. He enters the playoffs on a 16-game point streak over which he’s had 12 multi-point efforts. 

Nick Lardis, C, Hamilton Bulldogs: A second half riser in scouting circles, Lardis excelled after a trade from Peterborough. The splits say it all. In 36 games with the Petes, Lardis scored 12 goals for 19 total points. In three fewer games with Hamilton, Lardis lit the lamp 25 times, falling just short of a full season point per game average (65 points in 69 games). Lardis skates well, is agile, slippery and shoots the puck with pace and accuracy. He takes a 12-game, 22-point streak into the post-season.

Tucker Robertson, C, Peterborough Petes: Robertson has been a coach’s favourite in Peterborough for his hard-nosed play, which should serve the Petes well in the playoffs. The Seattle Kraken selected Robertson in the fourth round of the 2022 NHL Draft, in his second year of eligibility. His 90-point season in 2022-23 was good enough for 13th in OHL scoring, he led the league with a 58.5 per cent faceoff winning percentage, and his nine game-winning goals were tied for third in OHL regular season play.

Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury Wolves: His season included an OHL second-best 18-game point streak that lasted two months, where he put up 35 points. The 11th ranked player by NHL Central Scouting for the 2023 NHL Draft, Musty was the first player taken in the 2021 OHL Priority selection. He more than doubled both his goal (26) and point (78) totals from a season ago, including a seven-point effort in a 13-2 win over Niagara on December 4.  

Matthew Maggio, RW, Windsor Spitfires: Maggio lead the OHL with 54 goals and 111 points. In his third year of draft eligibility last summer, Maggio was selected in the fifth round by the New York Islanders. Now playing for his hometown team, Maggio was acquired from Ottawa in the summer of 2019. He played the COVID season in Sweden and returned to post 85 points in the 2021-22 OHL campaign. Maggio’s season included an OHL-best five-goal effort in a 6-5 win over Erie on December 15. 

Kitchener Rangers, Francesco Pinelli: The LA Kings prospect took off this season, his second as captain of the Rangers. A 90-point campaign that consisted of 41 goals and 49 assists has seen his point totals grow year over year in the OHL from 41 to 60 and now to 90. On a team that has undergone a coaching change and some internal turmoil, Pinelli will be looked upon to lead this group to its true potential. He led all OHL skaters with five shorthanded goals for eight shorthanded points in regular season play. 

Sam Dickinson, D, London Knights: Dickinson was Niagara’s first pick, fourth overall in the 2022 OHL Priority selection. Out of the famous Toronto Marlies minor hockey program, he was quickly dealt to London and Niagara got seven picks in return. The investment looks like it’s paid off for the Knights, who have used him in all situations, while playing him well over 18 minutes per game. He scored nine goals for 23 points over 62 games. Dickinson is expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. 

Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound Attack: One of the highest draft eligible risers from the start of the scouting season until now, Barlow missed some time down the stretch and likely won’t be at 100 per cent for the playoffs. A 30-goal scorer as a 16-year-old, Barlow put up 46 goals for the Attack this season. Barlow showed a different side to his game as an effective penalty killer for Canada’s gold medal Hlinka-Gretzky team. He continued to build layers into his game over the course of the season to the point where’s he’s now a projected top 10 NHL pick in June. 

Michael Misa, C, Saginaw Spirit: The exceptional player status proved to be well deserved. Despite having played 16 fewer games than the next-closest competitor, Misa led all rookie OHLers with 56 points in 45 games played. After missing six weeks due to a lower-body injury, he returned to the lineup in mid-March and amassed six points in the final five games of the season. 

Amadeus Lombardi, C, Flint Firebirds: Finished the season as the OHL’s third-leading scorer with 102 points in 67 games. A five-point effort in a 6-5 overtime win in the final regular season game for the Firebirds helped him eclipse the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career. Lombardi, a 13th round OHL pick and fourth-round NHL pick to Detroit last summer, plays with pace, has excellent hands and has excelled all season at even strength. 

Ty Voit, RW, Sarnia Sting: Thanks to a league-leading 81-assist season Voit, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, finished second in league scoring with 105 points. The Sting finished with the league’s best power play at 26 per cent efficiency, with Voit’s 42 power play points leading all OHL players.  

Cam Allen, D, Guelph Storm: Allen came into this season as the projected first defenceman to come off the board at the 2023 NHL Draft. Allen put pressure on himself to single-handedly bring the Storm out of their early season funk, and by doing so, got away from what made him successful. Since then, he’s gotten back to being a reliable puck mover who plays with some physicality.

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