An (extremely) early look at the top 2021 OHL draft prospects

OK, yes, I admit: it’s way too early to be looking at the top prospects for the 2021 OHL draft. Like, seriously, we’re discussing Grade 8 kids here.

But that’s what makes hockey scouting so much fun: you get to see how kids develop over a couple of seasons, not just one or two.

Last week, I put out a piece looking at 20 prospects for the 2020 OHL draft that caught my attention. A couple thousand people read the piece, which was shocking to me. Seriously, why do you guys care so much about guys not eligible for the NHL draft until 2022?

I’m fortunate enough that, through my job and through other opportunities, I get to watch top talent from an early age. For example, once I get back from the NHL draft combine at the end of May, I’ll be in Oakville for the Draftday Prospect Showcase in Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, where I do video for various tournaments. There’s also the World Selects Invitational coming in a few weeks, and while I won’t be at it, it’ll be a great opportunity to follow many of the top prospects you’ll read about below.

Let me be clear: once again: this is not a mock draft. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you took this as an actual draft listing. What I’m doing here is outlining prospects I’ve watched and written notes about over the past few months, while taking discussions I’ve had with scouts in consideration.

I don’t feel like wasting much more of your time, so here’s 15 prospects worth keeping an eye on for the 2021 OHL draft (and, ultimately, the 2023 and 2024 NHL drafts, too).

Noah Cochrane, D (Barrie Jr. Colts): I remember seeing clips of Cochrane during the World Selects Invitational last year and the only thing that really amazed me was his speed. But at the OMHA championships in March, Cochrane was the best player on the ice in Barrie’s bronze medal effort over the York-Simcoe Express, scoring a nice end-to-end goal to make it 3-0 in the contest. Cochrane moved better than any defensemen I saw in this age group and was the most aggressive two-way player in general. Barrie has a good team and Cochrane has been a driving offensive force from the point for the Colts, something he’ll need to continue being if Barrie is going to make the OHL Cup next March.

Callum Ritchie, F (Oakville Rangers): Every few years, the Oakville Rangers are one of the toughest teams in Ontario to beat. The 1997-born team was absolutely dominant during the 2013 minor midget season, with the 2018 team also having quite the season. The 2005-born Rangers are one of the top teams in minor bantam, having finished with a 62-6-5 record this season, even though they eventually lost to Hamilton in the OMHA finals. One of the best players on the team was Ritchie, a physical two-way forward with a knack for winning faceoffs and can dominate puck control on most shifts. He was a game-changer for the Rangers during the two championship series games and two regular-season contests I watched him play, doing a good job of controlling the puck up and down the ice with impressive energy.

Luke McNamara, F (Toronto Titans): You’ve probably seen videos of what the small, speedy forward is capable of online, and McNamara looks like a truly intriguing prospect at a young age. A fluent skater that spends a lot of time in front of the net, McNamara has nice hands and puts solid power behind his wrist shot despite not being that big of a kid yet. In 2015, McNamara led the Shanahan/Warrior tournament with nine goals and 14 points with three game-winning goals, showing very early signs of greatness. McNamara’s skill is among the best in his age group and doesn’t waste many opportunities, so watch for him to score quite a bit this year.

OAKVILLE, ONT. – York-Simcoe Express defenceman RJ Schmidt (#19) before the OMHA Minor Bantam bronze medal game at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex on March 17, 2019. (Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)

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. Watch for Schmidt to become one of the more noticeable defenders in the SCTA.

Angus Macdonell, F (Toronto Marlboros): 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. Macdonell has high-end top speed and can hold his old physically in battles in front of the net, an area he spends a lot of time in. Macdonell already has a powerful wrist shot and moves the puck well with extra space on the power play. Macdonell, the team captain, is an impressive playmaker and doesn’t let others boss him around. An exciting prospect, no doubt.

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.

Andrew Claughton, G (York-Simcoe Express): Goalies are very tough to predict, but I liked what I saw from Claughton at the OMHA’s. Claughton has a very quick blocker and makes many spectacular glove hand stops and he moves very well from post to post. Claughton was very good in York-Simcoe’s semifinal contest against the Bulldogs, which the Express eventually lost and is typically among the top goalies at any given tournament. It’s early, but I like his development so far.

Declan Waddick, F (Sun County Panthers): In 2018, Waddick was easily the most impressive forward at the OHF Peewee AAA championship, leading the Panthers to a championship with eight goals and 13 points in eight games. Waddick speed and puck control abilities allow him to break through the middle of the ice without fear of getting crushed by bigger defensemen, but the right winger also doesn’t hesitate to take his game to the perimeter. I have only seen Waddick a few times, but his stick-handling abilities are memorable for a kid his age.

Brock Cummings, F (Mississauga Rebels): Another star from the World Selects Invitational, Cummings had five goals and six points in eight games last year with the East Coast Selects team. Cummings is a big kid with great hands and high top speed that wins most of his one-on-one battles and doesn’t fail on many breakaway chances. One of the more dangerous forwards in the GTHL, Cummings is used in all special team situations thanks to his go-go-go mentality of always being on the attack. Cummings will be capable of scoring a lot of goals in his career.

Owen Davy, G (London Jr. Knights): I can’t find his listed size, but I know that Davy takes up a lot of his net and fills a good amount of the crease for is age. Davy is very athletic, often finding the opportunity to make a big save in a tough situation or a quick scramble in front. A lot of shots do tend to go up high on him, but as he grows and learns to utilize his size, especially with his already-strong rebound control, he won’t have many flaws in his game. Davy was playing AA just two seasons ago, so it’s cool to see how he’s developed in the years since.

OAKVILLE, ONT. – Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs goaltender Ben Rossi (#74) before the OMHA Minor Bantam Championship game at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex on March 17, 2019. (Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)

Ben Rossi, G (Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs): Rossi was one of the major standouts of the OMHA championships, leading the Bulldogs to the title over a stronger Oakville team. Rossi was a standout with the Bulldogs Peewee AAA team at the 2018 Ontario Winter Games, leading the team to gold in the high-paced tournament. Rossi moves from post-to-post quickly and has impressive rebound control for his size and age. Rossi obviously 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 for a minor bantam goaltender. Look for Rossi to be one of the first goalies chosen two years from now.

Gabe Runco, D (Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs): Runco was one of the more noticeable players on the Bulldogs this season, moving the puck quickly and with confidence. Runco has a nice set of hands that he uses often and it’s not uncommon for him to chip in and score a pretty goal. The raw skill is there, but the refinement is still needed: he puts himself out of position at times trying to rush the puck and can be caught waiting too long to make a play at points. But overall, I like what I’ve seen from him. A

Mitchell Brooks, F (Burlington Eagles): One of the common traits you’ll see of kids this age is that they have electrifying energy and love to get involved with the puck around the net. That’s exactly what Brooks is: a fiesty ball of speed and skill, mixed in with an impressive ability to put pucks in the net. Brooks was Burlington’s best player at the OHF championship series and had a solid four goals and six points with Pro Hockey at the 2018 World Selects Invitational. The left winger was one of the best players in the SCTA this past season and will represent the league at the Draftday Prospects Showcase in Oakville next month, where he should be one of the more dangerous scorers.

James Petrovski, F (Toronto Titans): Petrovski played with the major bantam team this year, which is a good sign given that the Titans went on to win the OHF bantam championships in early April. He wasn’t much of an offensive threat for the Titans, but he also didn’t look out of pace playing against older, stronger competition, either. Petrovski is an impressive skater that’s quick to win puck battles and is tough to take the puck off of due to his skating. Petrovski isn’t eligible until the 2024 NHL draft due to being a December 2005 baby, but that will give him an edge when he’s eventually drafted. Assuming he plays a year up again, Petrovski will be given plenty of opportunities to play meaningful hockey for a Titans team that will factor into the GTHL title race next season.