An early look at the 2021 OHL Draft

A year ago, I took an extremely early look at the 2021 OHL draft. For the most part, it just focused on a handful of players that impressed me at a tournament in Oakville, plus a few other viewings I had throughout the season while waiting for minor midget contests.

Honestly, I expected about 10-20 people to read it and that’s it. It wasn’t meant to be an early ranking, but more so just the players that caught my attention. But here we are 12 months later and the piece has nearly 5,000 hits – not a ton, but given the subject matter, I’m completely shocked.

So, it’s time for an update. Fortunately, I’ve seen many Oakville Rangers games being from Oakville, and with the team considered one of the top clubs to beat (especially if rumors of potential additions of high-quality players materialize), it’s going to be a big year for a club that already looks stronger than the 1997-birth year group that put on a show in 2012-13.

Compared to the NHL draft, where most scouts have followed the players for 4-5 years at the least, it’s tough to judge the OHL’s top prospects a year in advance. They’re still quite young – the oldest kids turned 15 over the past four months – and many still have a lot of growth to do, physically and mentally. But through talking to scouts and using my own notes, here’s a look at 30 prospects for the 2020 OHL draft you should keep an eye on (and please remember, this is not a mock draft or a ranking of any kind and I’m not including players I’ve seen nothing from – sorry ETA players):

Calum Ritchie, F (Oakville Rangers)
“The real deal.” “He’s going to change an OHL franchise for the better.” “Best of the best.” Those are all terms used to describe Ritchie’s play this year after proving he’s one of the best 2005-born players in the country. I was at one of his two minor midget games with the Rangers this season and watching him pull off an incredible no-look deke around a defender to score was one of the highlights of the season for me. He had no issue being among the best players against older competition and his creativeness with the puck is superb. Ritchie is confident with the puck and dependable in his own zone – a guy who should have no issue instantly transitioning to the OHL when the time comes.

Luke Misa, F (Oakville Rangers)
Another member of the dominant Rangers squad, you can’t count Misa out of the No. 1 pick discussion. While there has been more attention placed on Ritchie the past few years, Misa was nearly a goal-per-game player in his five games with Oakville’s minor midget team and showcased his smart decision-making with the disk on his stick. Misa’s game is built around speed, but the Rangers relied on him to play a smart defensive game and he rarely flubs the puck when he’s under pressure. Oakville is set for a championship run in 2020-21, so Misa will have many opportunities to showcase what he can accomplish.

Noah Cochrane, D (Barrie Jr. Colts)
Cochrane was one of my standout players when I wrote about the 2005 age group a year ago and nothing has changed. Cochrane played a year up with the Barrie Colts’ minor midget program and was the team’s best player on many nights, trailing Charlie Fowler for the team lead in points by a defenseman. Cochrane loves to engage himself in offensive rushes and there are a few clips out there of him stealing the puck for a breakaway chance. Physically, Cochrane can hold his own, but his true strength lies in how he handles the puck – whether it be shooting with his quick, dangerous wrist shot on the power play or the way he sets up forwards at a high pace. He’s easily in the running for the first overall pick in 2021 and a good successor to Ty Nelson as the OHL’s top defensive draft prospect.

Cameron Allen, D (Toronto Nationals)
Physicality, puck smarts, a hard shot and a two-way presence. Allen has everything you’re looking for out of a modern-day defenseman and will be the Young Nats’ most important player in 2020-21. But still, it’s Allen’s ability to keep plays simple with minimal mistakes that makes him so fascinating. He can be flashy and make big plays, but his bread and butter is how he doesn’t keep his teammates guessing what he’s going to do and doesn’t take big risks.

Ben Lalkin, F (Mississauga Reps)
You must be doing something right if the NHL, TSN, Pavel Barber and other high-profile hockey names have posted about your dangles as a 14-year-old. And soon, more people will be exposed to Laklin’s all-around game that will make him an early selection next April. Laklin took his two-way game to a whole new level in 2019-20, adding physicality and defensive smarts to an already impressive offensive package. His footwork is advanced for his age and he has no issue getting into scoring situations thanks to his high-end speed.

Angus Macdonell, F (Toronto Marlboros)
Explosive. Quick. Fiesty. Are we talking about an action movie or a top draft prospect? The Marlboros will once again be one of the most feared teams in the GTHL – shocking, I know – and Macdonell will be one of the main reasons why. Macdonnell is one of the highlights of the strong Toronto Marlboros program heading into 2020-21, with the mid-sized forward using his speed and stickwork to inflict pain – offensively, of course. Macdonell is always engaged in the play and uses his assets to his advantage when fighting for pucks. He’s easily one of the most intriguing prospects for the draft and one of the top names to watch in the GTHL.

Carson Rehkopf, F (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)
Another high-skilled forward, Rehkopf is a wizard with the puck. It seems to spend a lot of time on his stick and he has the offensive tools in his arsenal to make quick, clean passes and shoot quick and powerful wrist shots. A strong winger who uses his size to push kids around, Rehkopf makes it a habit to rush to the net and doesn’t like to be much of a bystander. A pure goal-scorer, Rehkopf could end up becoming one of the highest-skilled players of his age group.

Anthony Romani, F (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)
Romani, one of Rehkopf’s linemates on Toronto, is a dangerous two-way forward who seems willing to take abuse in front of the net to help his team and likes to chip in rebounds from in close. Romani does a nice job of picking angles with an above-average wrist shot and is one of the better passers on the Jr. Canadiens. He isn’t a great skater, but he’s good enough to put himself in scoring areas and grabs a lot of points as a result. It’s worth noting that just three players outscored Romani at the U-13 World Selects Invitational two years ago, and two of them were high-profile prospects Connor Bedard and Alex Weiermair.

Anselmo Rego, F (Vaughan Kings)
A highlight prospect out of the Vaughan Kings program, Rego is a confident puck-mover with great hands and a shifty skillset. Rego is a true team-player that would rather set his teammates up than force a play he might not come out on top of, and that’s the type of thing you like to see out of a young prospect.

Luke McNamara, F (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)
A strong kid who isn’t afraid to throw the body, McNamara was one of my favorite prospects at the DraftDay Prospect Showcase in Oakville a year ago. He plays every shift like he has something to prove, but he does it unselfishly. Your best bet of stopping him is to land a big, crushing hit because McNamara has the skill and speed to blast by you if you’re not playing aggressively.

Luke McNamara (Photo from Steven Ellis)

Mitchell Brooks, F (Toronto Titans)
A former member of the Burlington Eagles, Brooks made the move to the Titans last season and didn’t disappoint. At first glance, Brooks plays like a pure offensive-minded forward, but he’s trusted to play the penalty kill and can handle himself admirably in his own zone. Much of his game is still raw, and there’s still work needed to manage his consistency, but there’s a reason scouts have followed his game closely for a while now: he makes everyone around him better.

Luca Pinelli, F (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)
The younger brother of Kitchener Rangers forward Francesco Pinelli, Luca is a highlight machine. Using his impressive skating to his advantage, Luca often is the one creating the offense for his line and has a lethal, desirable wrist shot that he unleashes often each night. If he’s anything like his brother, Luca is going to be an instant scoring threat in the OHL.

Conor Thacker, D (Oakville Rangers)
A cornerstone of the powerhouse Rangers team, scouts love how Thacker sees the game, both in action and in anticipation. A strong kid at 6-foot-2 and just under 200 pounds, Thacker is tough to take the puck off of and skates well for being one of the bigger kids in the age group. A modern-day mobile defenseman by definition.

Nick Lardis, F (Oakville Rangers)
A small, but super skilled prospect, Lardis Lardis always looks like he got launched out of a rocket based on how quick he moves. Lardis uses his speed to create scoring chances and he sees the game at a high pace, allowing him to outsmart defenders while playing a speedy game. Lardis doesn’t lose many 1-on-1 opportunities and he has the puck skills to make things happen with the disk. If he adds some size to his frame, he’s going to be a dominant offensive player some day – and, of course, he’s still young, so that’s not a concern right now.

Colby Barlow, F (Toronto Marlboros)
Big kids typically have an advantage at this age and Barlow has a dominating presence about him. When he’s at full speed carrying the puck, getting in front of him is just asking for a death sentence. Barlow has a powerful shot and can switch from a wrist shot to a slap shot with ease, and while scouts would love to see him improve his puck-moving decisions while under pressure, his raw skillset is impressive at this point.

Colby Barlow (Photo from Steven Ellis)

Jaxon Priddle, F (Lambton Jr. Sting)
First off, he’s got one of the best names of the draft. But more importantly, he’s got his skillset is going to be what really gets people talking down the line. A primary scoring threat for the Sting, Priddle has good on-ice awareness that allows him to capitalize on breakaways and create open space for himself. Each shift, he’s Lambton’s best player, so it’ll be interesting to see what numbers he can produce if a high-scoring OHL team picks him up next year.

Chase Thompson, F (North Bay Trappers)
You don’t typically see a lot of Northern Ontario representation early in the draft, but Chase Thompson’s play with the North Bay Trappers midget team this season is worth mentioning. Playing against bigger, older teenagers, Thompson engaged enthusiastically in physical play and when he gets on his game, he’s hard to contain. If you give him extra room on the power play, he’s going to make you pay. His skating needs a lot of work, though, but if it can catch up to his hard work ethic, there will be something tangible to work with.

Bronson Ride, D (Oakville Rangers)
The younger brother of Oakville Blades Jr. A defenseman Declan Ride, Bronson has a good pedigree behind him and has the size all scouts desire in an OHL-ready prospect. Just for reference, Declan is 6-foot-6, and Bronson is already the same size – if not a little taller. Ride has always been among the best defensemen in the age group, using his big reach and physical play to his advantage. His skating could use a bit more step, but Ride moves well for his size and has the basics needed to be an all-around monster some day. It’s worth noting that Declan is committed to Miami University in the NCAA, so Bronson could consider the school route, too.

James Petrovski, D (Toronto Titans)
A physically dominant defender, even the most skilled, smaller forwards struggle to find a way around Petrovski. Petrovski is a pure athlete: he moves well, he doesn’t seem to slow down as the game progresses and he hates to lose. Petrovski can run the power play and racking up assists isn’t new to him, so there’s some good offensive potential here.

Declan Waddick, F (Sun County Panthers)
Waddick is a well-rounded prospect that does everything asked with him with some form of success. Scouts love how smart he is at reading the play, allowing him to play at a high pace and ahead of his opponents. A “student of the game”, as one scout said, Waddick keeps in constant contact with his teammates on the ice and can be seen directing plays – often with a high degree of success.

Matthew Wang, F (London Jr. Knights)
It’s one thing to be a quick skater, but it’s another to know how to correctly harness that power to your advantage. That’s what Wang can do – when playing a strong defensive club, Wang takes the game to the perimeter and makes space for himself and his teammates. Throw in his hard shot, namely his slapper, and you have a smart, offensive-minded forward who can be a game-changer at the minor midget level.

Charles Vanhaverbeke, D (Clarington Toros)
Vanhaverbeke is tough to keep up with, both with and without the puck. Vanhaverbeke is no stranger to rushing the puck down the ice and sometimes looks for passes as if he’s the fourth forward on a scoring chance. He’s always on the lookout for a potential scoring chance against and doesn’t spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen: if Vanhaverbeke sees an opportunity to make a play, he’ll do it.

Christopher Brydges, D (Quinte Red Devils)
Brydges is well ahead of much his age group in terms of two-way play among defenders, often being a driving force to Quinte’s scoring chances. Brydges skates with confidence and always has a set plan in place, but he can adjust to mistakes and keep up with the fastest forwards in the league.

Ben Rossi (Photo from Steven Ellis)

Ben Rossi, G (Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs)
Rossi was a standout at the OMHA championship a year ago and his stock has only risen since then. In fact, when scouts talk about the Bulldogs, Rossi is nearly always one of the first names mentioned. Rossi moves from post-to-post quickly and has impressive rebound control for his size and age. Rossi isn’t a big kid yet but he does a good job of limiting his angles and his glove hand is as quick as it gets.

Cal Uens, F (Quinte Red Devils)
With a last name like Uens – the names Randy and Zachary may ring a bell – people are going to pay attention. Strong in his own zone, Uens is a reliable two-way player with good speed and an impressive breakout pass in his arsenal. Uens always has his head on a swivel, looking to set someone up and create high-danger scoring chances.

Tristan Bertucci, D (Toronto Marlboros)
A power-play star, Bertucci doesn’t waste his passing opportunities and rarely makes a bad read with the puck. When setting someone up, he can be elusive in the fact that he often makes you think he’s going to do something else completely, allowing Bertucci to stay one step ahead of most of the kids his age.

Taeo Artichuk, F (Markham Majors)
Whoa, talk about exciting. Every time Artichuk touches the puck, you notice. Not a big kid at 5-foot-6, Artichuk has unmatched speed and can deke past even the best defensemen in the draft. Seriously, give him the puck and try stopping him. Like you’ll see out of most undersized, but skilled forwards, Artichuk does have some deficiencies in his defensive game, but that’s something coaches can continue to help him with. Get ready for some highlight-reel clips over the next few years.

Connor Haynes, F (Markham Majors)
A strong kid with a good release, Haynes isn’t going to blow you away with a high top speed, but he has the rounded skillset to make up for it. A smart playmaker, Haynes is creative when moving the puck and doesn’t miss many of his downward feeds. Haynes could learn to shoot more, but he’s got a great base to work with.

RJ Schmidt, D (York-Simcoe Express)
More of a playmaker than a shooter, Schmidt has been one of the better defenders for the York-Simcoe Express and isn’t afraid to join the rush when called upon. The left-handed shooter is patient with the puck – he doesn’t dump and chase, but will rather take the puck back in his zone if he sees it as the most effective option. His passes are quick and slick, and he can run a strong power play.

Owen Davy, G (Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs)
It’s challenging to project goalies at this level, but Davy has a nice base to build around at this point in his development. Davy is very athletic, often finding the opportunity to make a big save in a tough situation or a quick scramble in front. A strong post-to-post puckstopper with good size and rebound control, Davy can also send pucks out with crisp passes and likes to get aggressive with poke checks. Davy was playing AA just three seasons ago, so it’s cool to see how he’s developed in the years since.

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