Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. It’s that time again, major junior hockey is back and we’re here to preview the new season for you. All three leagues recently kicked off their new seasons. With that in mind, we will start our division previews today and make our way around the country. Today, we bring you our 2019-20 OHL Central Division Preview.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
OHL Central Division
Top Two Teams (In Predicted Order of Finish)
Centres Ryan Suzuki (Carolina) and Matej Pekar (Buffalo Sabres) are an outstanding 1-2 punch down the middle. Veteran forwards Jacob Tortora, Victor Hadfield, Jason Willms, and Luke Bignell provide secondary scoring. On defence, they have NHL prospects in Tyler Tucker (St. Louis) and Matthew Hill (Anaheim) as well as a solid veteran in Jack York, and promising rookies in import Vinny Prospal and Brandt Clarke. Goalie Arturs Silovs is a Vancouver Canucks prospect.
All eyes will be on 17-year-old centre Quinton Byfield, who is battling to be the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. He is supported up front by Carolina Hurricanes prospect Blake Murray, fellow former first overall OHL Draftee David Levin, Shane Bulitka, Nolan Hutcheson, and Owen Robinson. The defence features CHL Import and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Kalle Loponen. Meanwhile, Peter Stratis, Phil Caron, and Emmett Serensits provide veteran support. Goaltenders Mitchell Weeks and Christian Purboo compete for starts.
Players to Watch
Matej Pekar, Centre, Barrie Colts
Pekar is a two-way centre who had 36 points in 33 games last season. He has excellent vision and hockey sense, anticipating where his teammates are going to be before hitting them with a tape-to-tape pass. He has the ability to fit the puck through tight areas and can make difficult saucer passes. Pekar also has a good wrist shot with a quick release but needs to use it more. He is willing to work hard at both ends and has even been an offensive threat on the penalty kill. Pekar gets his nose dirty and goes to the tough areas of the ice but needs to add upper-body strength.
Ryan Suzuki, Centre, Barrie Colts
Suzuki uses outstanding skating ability to create space and generate chances. He can beat defenders wide and accelerate to the front of the net with his speed. He can also change directions, or change speeds to open up passing and shooting lanes. His ability to change gears while rushing the puck up the ice allows him to fool defenders and his agility and edgework make him even more dangerous. He could stand to improve his strength and balance though. Suzuki controls the puck well in the cycle by eluding defenders and avoiding hits, however adding power and being able to fight through checks would help his game.
Suzuki sees the ice very well and processes the game quickly. He understands where teammates are headed and can make a tape-to-tape pass through tight areas. His playmaking ability is highlighted by his skill running the power play from the half boards. Suzuki uses strong stickhandling ability and quick changes in direction or speed to open up a passing lane. He can create offensive chances off the rush or in the cycle game. Suzuki is able to slow down the play or speed it up as necessary. His ability to move the puck through the neutral zone and generate clean zone entries is particularly good. Suzuki also has a good release on his shot but needs to generate more power. His wrist shot is very accurate and he can pick tight spaces.
Thomas Harley, Defence, Mississauga Steelheads
Harley makes a good first pass out of the zone and can start the transition game. He handles the puck well, especially while moving at top speed. This helps him to rush the puck out of his end and to lead the play in the neutral zone. Harley is also willing to take chances and join the rush as a trailer. He is also able to make smart plays with the puck in the offensive zone. Harley is a creative player. He has good vision and sees plays developing in the offensive zone. He can make passes through tight areas and sets up teammates for good scoring opportunities.
Harley improved his shot last year and the goals started to go in as a result. His slap shot has gotten significantly harder and he uses patience and his agility to open up shooting lanes and get it on the net. Harley also keeps his shot low, allowing teammates to get to the net for screens, tip-ins, and rebounds. Harley could improve by sneaking in from the point and letting his wrist shot go more often.
Akil Thomas, Centre, Niagara Ice Dogs
With 38 goals and 102 points last season, Thomas is dynamic. He has outstanding speed and maintains it even with the puck on his stick. Defenders must back off or risk getting beaten to the net. Thomas is a smart player taking advantage of this time and space to create passing lanes to teammates and set up scoring opportunities. He can also create space with very good stickhandling ability. Thomas can also make plays on the cycle game. He controls the puck well down low and has the vision and passing skills to find open teammates. Thomas is poised with the puck and keeps his head up. He also plays the point on the Ice Dogs power play, excelling in the role of quarterback. While he is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, Thomas has really improved his shot.
Philip Tomasino, Centre/Right Wing, Niagara Ice Dogs
Tomasino is a dynamic skater. His acceleration is elite. The ability to quickly change speeds allows him to dart into open space in the offensive zone as well as to beat a defender wide and cut back to the net. He also has very good top-end speed. Tomasino adds excellent agility and edgework to his speed, making him very difficult to defend off the rush. Defenders often have to back up on him and give plenty of space to shoot or pass the puck so that he does not beat them wide. He could continue to add core strength to make him stronger on the puck and better able to fight through checks at the next level.
Tomasino marries his skating ability with excellent stickhandling. He can make plays while moving at top speed. This gives him the ability to be an excellent playmaker. By quickly changing his speed, making a cut, or even changing the angle on his stick he can create a passing lane to a teammate. He also has very good vision to find those open teammates. Tomasino uses his speed to get in quickly on the forecheck and create offence by forcing turnovers and mistakes from his opponents. Tomasino also has an accurate shot and quick release.
Mason Primeau, Centre, North Bay Battalion
At 6’5″ Mason Primeau can be a power forward. He uses his size and reach to protect the puck down low and extend plays while waiting for teammates to get open. Once they do, he can make a pass through a tight area and set up a scoring chance. He needs to get stronger and fill out what is currently a lanky frame. The Vegas Golden Knights prospect finished with just 33 points in 69 games last season. He really needs to improve his skating as he can fall behind the play. He is a bit of a long term project.
Blake Murray, Centre/Left Wing, Sudbury Wolves
Murray disappointed a bit with just 30 goals and 50 points in 66 games last year. He is a natural sniper, with a strong wrist shot and excellent release. Murray is willing to shootif given the slightest opportunity. He creates space with a quick first step and excellent acceleration. Murray has the size to take the puck to the front of the net and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and causes turnovers. Murray has very good hands and stick-handling. He is able to make quick moves in order to open up passing and shooting lanes. He is also strong at protecting the puck and extending plays. Murray handles the puck while moving at top speed.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Aidan Prueter, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads
Prueter is a hard-working gritty forward. Despite being 5-foot-10, he is relentless on the forecheck and creates havoc in front of the opponent’s net. He is in the middle of nearly every scrum when he is on the ice and drives opposing defenders and goalies nuts. Prueter isn’t going to make a lot of highlight reels, but he still puts up points by getting to the dirty areas of the ice. He is solid on his skates and tough to knock off the puck but could stand to improve his speed.
Brandon Coe, Right Wing, North Bay Battalion
The third overall pick in the 2017 OHL Draft, Coe showed improvement in his second OHL season. He put up 17 goals and 37 points in 65 games. Coe is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds already. He is strong on the puck and controls the play below the hash marks. He keeps the puck moving with short, quick passes to teammates and loves to run the give and go. Without the puck, Coe gets to the front of the net where he can bang in a quick pass, pounce on rebounds and tip-in shots. If he can take a step forward as a power winger, he can quickly rise up draft boards.
Quinton Byfield, Centre, Sudbury Wolves
The first overall pick in the 2018 OHL Draft, Byfield won the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year Awards, helping the Wolves return to the OHL playoffs. He put up 29 goals and 61 points in 64 games last season. Byfield also added three goals and eight points in eight playoff games. Byfield has everything that teams want in a prospect. The big centre (already 6-foot-4 and still growing) is a tremendous skater. He moves extremely well, not just for a big man, but compared to all players. He also has the hands to make moves with the puck while travelling at that speed. Byfield can be a goal scorer, with an excellent wrist shot, quick release and a very good one-timer. He also has the soft hands to finish in close to the net.
Byfield is also an excellent playmaker. He has the vision and hockey IQ to anticipate where his linemates will be and to set them up for scoring chances. Byfield uses his size to protect the puck and extend plays. He can also play a physical game, getting in quickly on the forecheck and forcing turnovers which he quickly turns into scoring chances. Byfield is not afraid to battle in front of the net and to fight for loose pucks in the corners. His size and strength were impressive in his first season in the OHL, even when facing opponents who were four years older. He is also already well-developed in his own end of the ice, playing a strong defensive game.
2021 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch
Brandt Clarke, Defence, Barrie Colts
The fourth overall pick in this year’s OHL Draft, Clarke can be a game-changer on the back end. He brings every offensive skill that a team would want in a defenceman. He has excellent skating and stickhandling skill and is able to both lead and join the rush. His vision and passing skills are top-notch. Clarke can quarterback the power play, finding passes through seams to set up teammates. He also makes a good first pass out of the zone and can even make the long breakaway pass if a teammate gets behind the defence. Clarke also has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a good slap shot from the point.