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 Midwest Division Preview.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
OHL Midwest Division
Top Two Teams (In Predicted Order of Finish)
The Knights are absolutely stacked once again. Liam Foudy (Columbus) and Connor McMichael (Washington) might be the best one-two centre punch in the entire league. Foudy is hurt right now, but should be back by Early November. 2020 NHL Draft Eligible Antonio Stranges could play a top six centre spot in the meantime and then move to the third line or he could provide offence on the wing. Paul Cotter (Vegas), Jon Gruden (Ottawa), and Matvey Guskov (Minnesota) give them incredible forward depth.
On the blueline, Alec Regula (Detroit) and Hunter Skinner (New York Rangers) are the pillars of what looked like a very young group beyond that top-two. As this article was being written, they added Ryan Merkley (San Jose). Goaltender Jordan Kooy (Vegas) will clean up a lot of mistakes and the Hunter brothers are not afraid to make trade-deadline improvements to contending squads.
Wingers Greg Meireles (97 points last year) and Jonathan Yantsis (50 goals) are back as overage players. They are joined on the offence by centre Riley Damiani (Dallas). Secondary scoring comes from new acquisition Liam Hawel, while younger forwards Ryan Stepien, Reid Valade, and Mike Petizian will be asked to take a step forward. Michael Vukojevic (New Jersey) leads the defence and shuts down the opponent’s top lines. Donovan Sebrango should bring the offence in his draft year. Axel Bergkvist and Ville Ottavainen come in via the import draft. Goalie Jacob Ingham (Los Angeles) is solid between the pipes.
Players to Watch
Cam Hillis, Centre, Guelph Storm
A 2018 Habs draft pick, Hillis suffered from a number of injuries last year. He is an excellent playmaker. He has very good vision, and the ability to make a pass to teammates through tight openings. His ability to change speeds and his shiftiness with the puck opens up passing lanes off the rush. He anticipates the movements of his teammates and can quarterback things on the half boards on the power play. Hillis also creates offence through the forecheck. He pressures defenders and causes turnovers. Once he gets the puck, he can find an open man cutting to the front of the net. Hillis scores most of his goals in tight to the net. He has soft hands and can finish in tight.
Riley Damiani, Centre, Kitchener Rangers
Drafted in 2018 by the Dallas Stars, Damiani is an undersized forward who skates well with good speed, acceleration, agility and edgework. He is a strong stick-handler who combines this with his skating in order to create space and open up passing lanes. Damiani sees the ice well and is a good playmaker with the passing skills to put the puck through tight areas. He has an accurate shot but needs some work on his power and release.
Michael Vukojevic, Defence, Kitchener Rangers
Vukojevic is best known for his defensive game. He is solid in his own zone, with the size to play a physical game and clear the front of the net. He reads the play well and is rarely out of position. Vukojevic uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes, especially while killing penalties. His skating ability allows him to play a solid two-way game, especially his strong lateral mobility. He has a decent slap shot but must work on getting it through traffic and on the net. He also shows a good first pass out of the zone. Vukojevic improved offensively last season, putting up 29 points in 68 games.
Liam Foudy, Centre, London Knights
Foudy is an elite skater, amongst the best in the OHL. He is incredibly fast, and reaches top speed quickly, with very good acceleration. Foudy’s ability to change speeds is a weapon in one-on-one situations. He can beat defenders to the outside and cut to the net. As they back off to defend him, it opens up passing and shooting lanes. Foudy is strong on the cycle as he protects the puck well, and has good balance. With good stickhandling, Foudy is willing to try to weave past a defender or make a quick move to open up a passing lane. Once a play is available he has the skill to make passes through tight areas.
Connor McMichael, Centre, London Knights
McMichael became more of a shooter last season, taking advantage of a better release on his wrist shot. He also has good accuracy and decent power. He also has an excellent one-timer, setting up close to the face-off dot to get it off on the power play. McMichael can beat defenders in one-on-one situations and create space. He has a knack for getting open without the puck. McMichael also has excellent vision and hockey IQ allowing him to make the correct play. With the puck on his stick, he can extend plays in the cycle. He protects it well in junior and waits for teammates to get open. Once they do, he can set them up with a quick pass.
Ryan Merkley, Defence, London Knights
Merkley is a puck-moving defenceman with true superstar potential. He is absolutely dynamic offensively. However, he also has some big off-ice issues. There were rumours of issues with coaches during his draft year. The fact that the Guelph Storm (who were loading up for a playoff run at the time) traded him last year despite his offensive numbers was a big red flag. Now the Peterborough Petes didn’t even put him on the team’s training camp roster and were desperate to move him before he returns from Sharks training camp. They gave him up for a relatively small return. The Knights will try to rehabilitate his image and harness his talent.
Merkley has the skating and passing skills to start the transition game. He is a talented puck handler who can carry the puck out of his own end and lead the transition game. Merkley is also able to make a long home-run pass in transition. He can also quarterback the play from the point. Merkley has great vision and passing skills. He can thread tape-to-tape passes through tight areas, and set up teammates for scoring chances.
Merkley also has an excellent point shot and loves to let it go from the point. His slap shot is powerful and accurate, and his wrist shot and snapshot also have quick releases. Merkley has a knack for opening up shooting lanes and getting his shot on net through traffic. He also keeps his shots low, allowing teammates to set up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds.
Aidan Dudas, Centre, Owen Sound Attack
Drafted in 2018 by the Los Angeles Kings, Dudas is a pure sniper. His wrist shot is amongst the best in the OHL. He generates a ton of power, has very good accuracy, and has a quick release. He can even vary his release point to fool goaltenders. Dudas is very dangerous when he can use a defender as a screen off the rush. He also has the soft hands to get tip-ins and to bury rebounds in front of the net. Dudas can also play the role of playmaker. Dudas combines good stickhandling with his agility and elusiveness to make defenders dizzy in one-on-one situations. He can control the puck and wait for a play to develop. When an opening appears, he has the vision and passing skill to take advantage, making a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Jamie Drysdale, Defence, Erie Otters
The fourth overall pick in the 2018 OHL Draft, Drysdale had a strong rookie season and was named to the OHL All-Rookie Team. He put up seven goals and 33 assists for 40 points in 63 games. Drysdale was also named the captain of Team Canada Black for the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, putting up four points in five tournament games. He also played for Canada at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship. He put up two points in seven tournament games.
Drysdale is another strong two-way defender. He has very good speed in both directions, as well as the agility and edgework to make quick pivots and transition from offence to defence and vice-versa. Drysdale can rush the puck up the ice, making plays and setting up teammates. He can also get back in his own end and his agility, smarts, and quick stick make him very difficult to beat off the rush. Drysdale is also good at walking the line in the offensive zone and creating shooting and passing lanes for himself. He can play the role of power-play quarterback. He is a bit undersized and will need to add muscle to his frame over the next several years.
Hayden Fowler, Centre, Erie Otters
Fowler was limited to just 25 games due to a broken clavicle last season. He still put up 18 points. Fowler marries a strong stickhandling ability with good skating skills. He is a quick player who is able to make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. Defenders need to back off him, as he can take them wide and go to the net. When this happens, Fowler is very good at spotting the openings and setting up a teammate for a scoring chance by making a quick pass through a newly created passing lane. Going forward, he needs to be stronger on the puck in the corners and on the cycle.
Andrei Bakanov, Left Wing, Guelph Storm
Drafted 38th overall in the CHL Import Draft, Bakanov is a pure sniper. He has an outstanding wrist shot. It is heavy and accurate. He is also a very good stickhandler and can beat defenders in one-on-one situations. However, skating has held Bakanov back and prevented him from being a dynamic scorer in the USHL last year. He will need to really improve that to make an impact in Guelph and impress the NHL Scouts ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Donovan Sebrango, Defence, Kitchener Rangers
Sebrango is an excellent puck-moving defenceman. He put up 26 points in 62 games as a 16-year-old OHL Rookie. He transitions the puck in a variety of ways. Sebrango is a strong skater and a good stick-handler. He can skate the puck out of his own zone and avoid opposing forecheckers. He can also lead the rush through the neutral zone. Sebrango has good vision and passing skills. This shows itself both in starting the transition by moving the puck to forwards as well as quarterbacking the power play. His defensive game is also strong, as Sebrango’s active stick can create turnovers and cut down passing lanes.
Antonio Stranges, Centre, London Knights
Stranges went in the second round of the 2018 OHL Draft, as most predicted that he would play for the US NTDP before heading to the University of Michigan. Instead, the London Knights took a risk on Stranges, and it paid off as he joined the team. Stranges has outstanding edgework. He uses his quick cuts and changes in direction to make defenders look silly. He pairs this with very good puckhandling skills. Stranges does a lot of things well. He can score goals with his excellent shot but can also play the role of facilitator and make plays for his teammates.
Igor Chibrikov, Defence, Owen Sound Attack
The six-foot-seven defender has a November 2001 birthdate and is entering his third OHL season. What you see is what you get offensively as Chibrikov put up just seven points in his rookie season and nine points last year. Chibrikov uses his size to play a strong defensive game. Attackers need to keep their heads up when coming down Chibrikov’s side of the ice as he is not afraid to throw a big hit. He is also willing to use his big body and his long stick to block shots and cut down passing lanes. Chibrikov, like many big men, needs to work on his foot speed and agility.
Mark Woolley, Defence, Owen Sound Attack
Woolley had just two goals and eight points in a season split between Guelph and Owen Sound last year. He is another defender known more for his defensive game than his offensive one. At six-foot-two and 203 pounds, he is solidly built and willing to play physical, whether that is battling for loose pucks in the corners or clearing the front of the net. Woolley will through big hits from time-to-time but is also disciplined and does not get himself out of position in looking for these plays.
2021 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch
Connor Lockhart, Centre, Erie Otters
The third overall pick of the 2019 OHL Draft, Lockhart is an undersized centre. Lockhart has outstanding skating and a non-stop motor. He is heavily involved in both the forecheck and the backcheck despite his size. He also has very good stickhandling skills, which he uses to create offensive chances. Lockhard has an outstanding wrist shot and a quick release. He also has the vision and passing skills to make his linemates better.
OHL Midwest Division Main Photo:
LONDON, ON – FEBRUARY 26: Connor McMichael #11 of the London Knights skates with the puck in the first period during OHL game action against the Guelph Storm at Budweiser Gardens on February 26, 2019 in London, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)