The current class of draft eligibles out of the Ontario Hockey League features a lot of strength up front with offensive producers coming in a variety of different forms beginning with well-rounded Mastercard Memorial Cup champion Gabriel Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires.
The 2nd overall pick of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Vilardi, a natural centreman, patrolled the left side for much of the 2016-17 season. He finished with 29 goals, 32 assists, and 61 points before stepping up as a big contributor in Windsor’s Mastercard Memorial Cup surge, posting seven assists over four games to be named to the tournament All-Star Team.
According to Spits head coach Rocky Thompson who recently took a position with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, the numbers don’t lie. Vilardi was a catalyst as a 17-year-old.
“The enhanced stats tell us [Vilardi] is the engine on this team because whoever plays with him, their Corsi numbers go straight up and are increased,” he told NHL.com’s, Mike Morreale. “Without him, they drop significantly. We’ve had a ton of injuries this year so it’s been a revolving door with our lines but the one common theme has been Vilardi’s ability to make the players with him even better.”
Vilardi heads to the draft in Chicago as the fourth-ranked North American skater on NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings released in mid-April. One needn’t look far down the list to see a host of other OHL forwards knocking on the door, hopeful to hear their names called in the first round on Friday, June 23rd.
Mississauga Steelheads winger Owen Tippett, a pure goal-scorer, lit the lamp 44 times during the regular season before helping his team reach the OHL Final with 19 points (10-9–19) in 20 playoff contests. The right-winger was ranked seventh and earned high praise from Steelheads coach James Richmond, drawing a comparison to Winnipeg Jets flank Patrik Laine.
“He’s got a great release of the puck, and it’s only going to get better when his body matures up top,” Richmond told Morreale. “He can wire the puck and do it from tight areas. He’s able to change the angle of his stick, much like Laine does, and it’s very difficult for a goalie to pick up the puck.”
Tippett spent some time watching the big Finnish shooter who racked up 36 goals in his first NHL season.
“It was amazing to me how he could score all those goals from the outside,” Tippett said of Laine. “A goal scorer is something you dream about becoming in the NHL.”
Kingston Frontenacs 42-goal scorer Jason Robertson will also be up for grabs in Chicago, providing teams with a dangerous shooter who can strike from anywhere below the top of the circles.
Robertson jumped from 34th in the midterm rankings to 14th in the final installment, showing scouts that, despite a skating stride that is an area he’d like to improve on, his scoring ability is something special. He had a hand in 45.2 percent of Kingston’s goals this past season.
“I don’t see it as a problem,” Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com’s Guillaume Lepage. “It doesn’t stop him from being at the right place at the right time. Brett Hull was never a great skater but he knew how to get open. Corey Perry and John Tavares weren’t the best skaters. We can’t allow ourselves to be overly influenced by one single aspect of a player’s game.”
Owen Sound centreman Nick Suzuki gives NHL teams another offensive option to choose from after a productive season that included 96 points (45-51–96). He proceeded to lead the Attack into the Western Conference Final with a team-leading 23 points (8-15–23) in 17 playoff games.
Other forwards on the radar include 6-foot-6 winger Isaac Ratcliffe who comes off a 28-goal season with the Guelph Storm, the London Knights duo of 50-assist man Robert Thomas and speedy winger Alex Formenton as well as playmaking Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds centreman Morgan Frost and Hamilton Bulldogs power winger Matthew Strome.
Top draft-eligible OHL defenders include 6-foot-5, 216Ib. Mississauga Steelheads left-handed shot Nicolas Hague and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds power play quarterback Conor Timmins. Finnish rearguard Eemeli Rasanen of the Kingston Frontenacs has also garnered attention along the way.
Mastercard Memorial Cup champion Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires left a strong impression with his outstanding play in the crease down the stretch. The athletic netminder is the latest draft eligible starting goaltender to hoist the Memorial Cup, joining such past names as Zach Fucale (2013 Halifax Mooseheads), Dustin Tokarski (2008 Spokane Chiefs) and Tyson Sexsmith (2007 Vancouver Giants).
With Nolan Patrick (Brandon Wheat Kings) ranked first, Nico Hischier (Halifax Mooseheads) ranked second and American defenceman Casey Mittelstadt ranked third ahead of Vilardi, the OHL may not have a player chosen in the top three, but with a number of promising names such as Ivan Lodnia (Erie Otters), Jonah Gadjovich (Owen Sound Attack), Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s) and MacKenzie Entwistle (Hamilton Bulldogs) further down the list, there’ll be no shortage of OHL talent coming off the board in Chicago.