An early look at the top 2020 OHL draft prospects

My girlfriend thinks it’s weird that I follow junior and minor hockey.

“You watch and evaluate a bunch of 15 year olds? What’s wrong with you?”

Yeah, I know, it does seem weird, but she doesn’t understand what it’s like to watch the next generation of young superstars a few years early… OK, I sound like a hipster now.

The 2019 OHL draft completed last week – albeit, with a large array of technical issues on the league’s end – and thus, the attention has switched over to the best 2004-born prospects for the 2020 OHL selection process. The Ontario Hockey Federation just had its major bantam championship last week, with the Toronto Titans beating the Toronto Jr. Canadiens 6-1 in the final.

I’m not going to claim that I followed the bantam level all year, because, in reality, I went to like 10 games total. In fact, I think I saw more minor bantam games than major bantam. But I did watch a ton of video, talked to scouts and coaches and combined notes that I took at games myself (full disclosure: while I do write about prospects from time to time for The Hockey News, I follow these levels of hockey for fun in my free time).

Anyways, I’ll keep it short: I wanted to get my thoughts out on some of my favourite prospects heading into the 2019-20 minor midget season in Ontario. One name that’s missing? Lane Hinkley of the Vaughan Kings. He’s from Moncton, and my understanding is he’ll head to the QMJHL draft, but correct me if I’m wrong. Hinkley is one of the best 2004-born skaters I’ve seen due to his quick feet and great transition from backwards to forwards. His experience playing a full season up will be an advantage for him moving forward, so enjoy him while you can, Toronto-area scouts.

Let’s get at it.

IMPORTANT: This is, by no means, a proper ranking. This is just a list of players I’ve seen play that will garner some attention a year from now.

Adam Fantilli, C (Toronto Jr. Canadiens): It’s still a while until the 2023 NHL draft, but the fact that Fantilli, a late 2004-born prospect, was such a dominant player at the minor midget level (playing kids nearly two years older than him) is a sign that he’s no ordinary prospect. The early favourite to be picked first next April, Fantilli is a smart kid that likes to drag defenders to the boards before making a quick move to put himself back into the slot. The Red Wings were so confident in the mid-sized forward that they played him in most situations, often finding a way to get involved on the scoresheet. Fantilli was a top 20 player in the GTHL this year, and that’s saying something given that he’s younger than the rest of the crowd. There were rumors of Fantilli leaving the GTHL to play in the United States, but sources close to Fantilli have said the plan is for him to play with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens next year.

Mick Thompson, F (Toronto Jr. Canadiens): No, he’s not the Slipknot guitarist, but Thompson is the definition of a player that works hard. Not a big kid, Thompson does have a physical side to his game that allows him to battle against stronger competition and his skating gets him where he needs to be to make plays. On a Toronto team that was on the top of the GTHL all year long, Thompson showcased his tremendous wrist shot and seemed to find passing lanes out of thin air. He’s got great hands and is always digging for pucks, typically making most of the scoring chances for his teammates.

Kocha Delic, F (Toronto Titans): Delic was easily one of the best players at the recent bantam AAA OHF championships, leading the Titans in scoring with four goals and 11 points in just seven games. Delic creates chances on every shift and has tremendous speed to separate him from his opponents. His mix of speed and size makes taking the puck off of him a challenge and he isn’t afraid to get rough to get the puck on his blade. Delic fights very hard and even on off nights, Delic shows that he’s a skilled player that brings his A-game to every battle. Very few players will impress as much as Delic will next season as he hopes to help his team start the year with a championship at the Titans Early Bird event a few months from now.

Hayden Simpson, F (Toronto Titans): He really thrived when playing alongside Delic this year, but Simpson is a kid worth watching on his own. Simpson had eight points in eight games at the OHF’s, but it was his hard-nosed game that really kept scouts watching. Simpson is fast, aggressive and doesn’t like to lose, and is truly a kid you want on your team if winning is your type of thing because of how much he gives on the ice.

Mason Chen, D (Toronto Titans): While Delic was the one earning most of the attention on the Titans this season, Chen was one of the most impressive two-way defenders in the GTHL with a nice mix of speed and smarts. You can rely on Chen to get the puck out safely and can kill penalties with ease, but his biggest asset is his ability to change the pace of the game with the puck on his stick.  A power play specialist, Chen will put a lot of pucks in the net next season.

Aaron Andrade, F (Mississauga Senators): Andrade plays with a good mix of speed and skill and has enough energy to last a full game without really slowing down. He’s a tremendous passer that isn’t afraid to send a puck through tight angles to make a play. A star with the Senators this year, Andrade played a lot on the power play this year and will likely contribute a lot of offence with the man advantage next season.

Harrison Ballard, F (Mississauga Senators): Ballard left the Don Mills Flyers after his bantam season – Don Mills, of course, won nearly every championship possible this season and never lost in regulation – but he showed tons of promise with the Mississauga Senators program while also earning some games in minor midget. Ballard, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, is an athletic winger that’s full of energy and is one of the main offensive catalysts for the Sens along with Andrade because of the pace he plays at. Ballard plays a physical game and should be a threat to jump to the OHL right away after getting drafted.

Cedrick Guindon, F (Eastern Ontario Wild): The Eastern Ontario WIld were the class of the field of the OEBHL this year, with Guindon leading the way with 96 points in 29 games and an additional 15 at the Bantam AAA championships. A high-energy player with a fantastic wrist shot for his age, Guindon also played with the Rockland Nationals U18 midget AAA team, recording two goals and an assist in a game in early October. Guindon does so much right: he’s very aggressive on the attack, he knows how to put himself in a dangerous scoring situation and he doesn’t back down from a physical challenge.

David Goyette, F (Eastern Ontario Wild): Guindon’s main man on the Wild, Goyette finished the OHF’s with 14 points in eight games, with two multi-goal games to go along with a four-point effort against the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs earlier in April. Goyette had quite the regular season, totaling 43 goals and 94 points in 30 bantam games before embarking on a 23-point run in eight playoff games. He was also a huge performer with the Hawkesbury Hawks midget AAA team, scoring three goals and adding four assists for seven points in eight games as an underager. Goyette has become a very quick player that spends most of his time buzzing around the net, and if he continues to develop at the pace he has, he’ll be a huge pickup at next year’s draft.

Dalyn Wakely, F (Quinte Red Devils): Wakely was a dominant player for Quinte at the OHF’s, tying Guindon for the tournament lead in points with 15. Like most of the players on this list, Wakely earned a call-up to minor midget this year, recording an assist for the minor midget team during the playoffs. Wakely does a nice job of forcing defensemen to turn over the puck and his wrist shot is among the best in the ETA. Wakely’s play will remind you Francesco Pinelli’s in the way he’s relentless, making plays rather than waiting for them.

Nathan Poole, F (Oshawa Jr. Generals): A big centreman, a lot of people have raved about Poole’s abilities against other kids his age. Poole was called up by the Oshawa Generals minor midget team for three games this season, scoring twice. Poole also showed his playmaking abilities as a member of the Pro Hockey Selects at the World Selects Invitational last year, posting five assists and seven points. Poole is a good skater that can throw big hits and rarely loses one-on-one puck battles, including against bigger minor midget kids. Oshawa figures to be a contender next year, and Poole will be a major contributor once more.

Dominic DiVincentiis, G (Toronto Jr. Canadiens): DiVincentiis has been the backbone of the Jr. Canadiens that has been the team to beat in its age group from Day 1. A quick agile goalie, DiVincentiis was one of the top goaltenders for the Draftday Hockey Selects U14 team at the World Selects Invitational last spring and kept the Jr. Canadiens in tough battles throughout the year. Even though he plays for a dominant team, DiVincentiis is still projected to be one of the top goalie prospects chosen at the OHL Draft next April.

Liam Eveleigh, D (Waterloo Wolves): Eveleigh isn’t going to wow you with flashy offensive moves, but his play at the OHL Cup was enough to get people to notice what he can do in his own zone. Everleigh showed a tendency to get aggressive and engage in physical bouts, no matter who it was he had to match up against. A strong skater, Eveleigh was an important blueliner for Waterloo despite being the youngest defender on the team, and scouts really complimented his willingness to engage in the play.

Isaiah George, D (Toronto Marlboros): George is a talented two-way defender from Oakville, Ontario that does a great job of engaging in the attack. George is very smooth and calculated when dishing out a pass – he never rushes the play like other kids his age tend to do. A skilled playmaker, George tends to shy away from the physical play, but can hold his own. He seems determined at all times to get the puck on the opposing net, which is typically a good thing for a hockey player, don’t you think?

Paul Ludwinski, F (Toronto Marlboros): With two game-winning goals for the Marlboros, who eventually lost to the Toronto Titans 6-1 in the finals, Ludwinski is making a case to be selected early next spring. Ludwinski was consistently one of Toronto’s best players at the OHF’s after recording points in all but one game, a 1-1 tie with the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs to kick off the tournament. Ludwinski plays with urgency – he doesn’t like to wait around to watch the play develop. Instead, he forces turnovers at a high rate and is known to sneaking up on a slow-moving defenseman in order to steal the disk. Ludwinski will once again be one of the Marlboros’ best players.

Ryan Struthers, F (Halton Hurricanes): A big, speedy centre, Struthers always has his head moving in order to find a teammate on the rush due to his solid playmaking sense. Struthers’ isn’t a big-time goal scorer, but his speed and ability to get creative with the puck will catch your eye. He’s a project guy – he likely won’t go that early next April – but he’s the type of player that does enough things right with the puck that you wouldn’t be afraid to give him significant ice time.

Noah Van Vliet, D (Toronto Red Wings): While he wasn’t used in important situations, Van Vilet spent the year playing with the Red Wings’ minor midget team, holding his own quite well as a mobile defenseman. Van Vilet puts is active with the puck and puts a lot of shots on net, but you’ll like how responsible he is when sending out a pass and defending in his own zone.

Boe Piroski, G (Sun County Panthers): Piroski was one of the better goalies at the Draft Day Prospects Showcase in 2018 and he carried that momentum into the regular season with the Panthers in Alliance action. Piroski was very busy in net for the Panthers this year as his team generally struggled, but he showed impressive lateral quickness to prevent goals from cross-ice passes in my viewings. Piroski has good size, he doesn’t put himself out of position often and he doesn’t struggle with rebounds.

Seth Kirou, D (Don Mills Flyers): The 2004 Flyers aren’t going to be as good as the 2003 team, but Kirou will make watching Don Mills worth watching. Kirou has explosive acceleration and starts and stops with ease, with and without the puck. Kirou gets a lot of shots on net and isn’t afraid to jump in the play because he knows he has the tools to get back. Kirou isn’t a big kid, but he does a good job of playing physical when required.

Ty Nelson, D (Toronto Jr. Canadiens): If you like speedy, skilled defensemen, Nelson is your guy. He isn’t a big kid, but Nelson has incredible raw talent with fantastic speed and a great ability to start and stop quickly. Nelson has major confidence carrying the puck up the ice and his wrist has impressive velocity. There’s so much to like about his game, and if he adds size and learns to use it effectively, he’ll be a top-five pick by the end of the season.