The word was out before National Hockey League teams descended on Vancouver for the 2019 Draft that the Ontario Hockey League class was, for a lack of a better term, a weak class.
But, did anyone expect this?
Since the NHL adopted the seven round draft back at the 2005 Draft, no draft has produced as few OHL’ers as has 2019. Just 25 players were selected from the O this year. The 2006 draft was a close (?) second worse class with 29. That 2006 class produced six first rounders as opposed to four this year.
What’s worse is only one draft since 2005, the 2007, Is the only draft that produced fewer first round picks with three. That class still produced 25 players drafted from the OHL.
Twenty-five is just above half of what the best drafts from the OHL have produced – forty-eight in both 2012 and 2016.
The Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils went OHL heavy with three selections each from the O.
2020 looks to be a lesser class overall then 2019 was, but there is some quality coming from the OHL, so we at least have that to look for.
Here’s a look at the drafts from 2005 to 2019 and the number of OHL players selected in each round.
Over 100 preseason, regular season and playoff games in arenas, countless others on video, and the 2019 National Hockey League Draft begins this Friday in Vancouver British Columbia.
We’ve compiled the top 40 players and top 6 goaltenders from the Ontario Hockey League and Ontario Junior Hockey League that we believe could hear their names called – although we don’t believe all of them will.
Three players (*) are re-entering the draft and three players (**) are re-entering the draft for the second time. Not included on our list are players that were not signed by their drafting club from the 2017 draft that may have been eligible to re-enter.
Players are ranked in the order that we believe they should be drafted. You will also see where NHL Central Scouting ranked the Ontario players. That ranking doesn’t show overall rankings but among Ontario players only.
Mason Primeau certainly comes with some bloodlines. He’s the son of former NHL’er Wayne Primeau and the nephew of Keith Primeau. And his sister, Madison, played in the PWHL this season. His cousins Cayden will be playing in the American Hockey League next season while Chayse just finished his first season playing in the NCAA. To say hockey runs in the family is an understatement.
Primeau played his minor midget AAA hockey with the Toronto Nationals during the 2016-2017 season where he compiled 13 goals and 16 assists in 33 contests. The Guelph Storm selected Primeau with the 22nd overall pick at the 2017 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
Here’s what OHL Central Scouting had to say about Primeau:
Mason comes from a very good hockey family and he looks to be following in his dad’s footsteps. He is a big two-way centre who has a very good understanding for the game. He is a good skater and has good top-end speed. Mason scored some really nice goals and shows flashes of having top-end skills. He is very reliable in all three zones and is very strong on face-offs. He competes each and every shift. Every coach is looking for a big two-way centre that is reliable and will chip in offensively.
Last season, Primeau made the Storm roster out of camp and appeared in 60 games, scoring 7 goals and assisting on 6 others.
There are two stories to tell this season. Primeau began the year with the Storm. In 20 games, he scored 3 goals and added 4 assists and the writing was virtually on the wall: There wasn’t going to be much ice time for Primeau on a club with Championship aspirations, one that the Storm would eventually achieve.
On November 15, 2018, the Battalion sent two second round picks (2020 and 2022) to the Storm for Primeau. Interestingly enough, Battalion Coach Stan Butler coached Wayne Primeau with the Oshawa Generals during the 1995-1996 season.
Once with the Battalion, Primeau’s ice time and opportunities increased, as did his intensity and his competitiveness. He would finish the season with 49 games in a Battalion uniform, scoring 10 goals and 16 assists. He would add a goal and 2 helpers in 5 playoff games.
Primeau comes with tremendous size at 6’5” and despite weighing in at 205 pounds, could stand to use a bit more muscle. Although OHL Central Scouting liked his skating, I think it’s just average. He lacks a good first few strides that prevents him from getting to top speed, which is okay for his size, at the pace that would be required.
I also don’t agree with Central Scouting’s assessment of “showing flashes of top-end skills.” That may have been the case in Minor Midget, but those skills weren’t visible in the OHL. Primeau’s offense is going to have to come from hard work, winning puck battles and getting to the front of the net, something he is capable of and will only get better at when he adds strength.
In the end, I don’t think Primeau’s vision, hockey IQ and skill set, which are all average in my opinion, are going to make him an offensive threat at the next level. Instead, he could carve out a career as a solid defensive center who is good on the draw, provide energy and physicality and eventually kill penalties, if he can improve on his footwork.
The question now is: where do you draft that type of player?
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Pre-season, November: C Prospect. Mid-term: 101, NA Skaters
Saginaw Spirits’ winger Nicholas Porco played his Minor Midget AAA with the Vaughan Kings during the 2016-2017 season. The Kings Alternate Captain appeared in 33 games scoring 22 goals and assisting on 19 others. He would also appear in a combined 11 games at the OHL Cup and OHL Gold Cup scoring 5 goals and adding 5 assists.
The Spirit would use the 4th overall pick at the 2017 Ontario Hockey League Priority selection to select Porco. This is what OHL Central Scouting had to say:
Nicholas is a one of the best wingers in this age group. He is explosive off the mark and has top-end speed that many have trouble keeping up with. He uses his edges very well and is hard to contain in the corners. Nicholas has a very good skill set that allows him to create numerous chances each game. He is not an overly physical player, but he won’t shy away from a battle in the corner or in front of the net. Nicholas has all the tools to be an impact player in the OHL.
Porco broke onto the OHL scene a season ago and in his rookie campaign scored 5 goals and 9 assists in 57 games. He would also represent Canada at the World Hockey Challenge Under-17, scoring once in 6 contests.
Porco had a breakout season this year. He scored 20 goals and 16 assists while playing in all but one of the Spirits regular season games. He would add 3 goals and 4 assists in 16 playoff games as the Spirit suffered a disappointing loss in the Conference Finals in what could have been an excellent run to an OHL Championship battle.
Porco is truly a gifted skater with excellent first strides and top end speed and has a separation gear. And he has some offensive talent. Just how much is the question since he was buried on a Spirit team that had an abundance of top end talent up front.
There are some flaws in his game, but nothing that can’t be rectified. First off, he plays one-dimensional in that he consistently tries to beat defenders using his speed. He’s a straight-line player who, if he would use the ice better i.e. east-west, he could become a dangerous player on offense.
Secondly, he really needs to add some strength. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s for lack of effort or not having the necessary strength, but getting knocked off the puck relatively easily at times is a concern. It would benefit his puck possession game and because he can make plays with the puck on his stick, that too can make him more dangerous in the O-zone. I actually think his playmaking abilities are underrated.
Porco’s speed allows him to get on the forecheck with ease. But he’s not overly physical. As Central Scouting’s report suggests, he doesn’t go out looking for physicality. Does he shy away from it? All too often I see him attacking from the periphery. I would like to see him attack the net more, with and without the puck.
There are definitely some intriguing offensive skills in Porco. He will need to fine tune his game to be effective at the next level. An NHL team with some depth and the ability to wait it out as he develops could have quite the find with Porco.
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Pre-season, November: C Prospect. Mid-term: 148 NA Skaters.
Guelph Storm winger Keegan Stevenson played his Midget hockey with the Soo Thunderbirds during the 2015-2016 and scored 17 goals while assisting on a dozen others in 21 games. He would add 3 goals in 2 playoff games and appear in both the OHL Cup and OHL Gold Cup.
The Storm would use the 102nd overall pick to select Stevenson at the 2016 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
The following season, Stevenson would play Junior A hockey with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. Stevenson would notch 12 goals and 23 assists for the Thunderbirds during a 54-game campaign. He would add a goal and 3 helpers in 4 playoff games.
Last season Stevenson broke onto the Storm roster and would play in 61 games scoring 5 goals and assisting on 5. He would add a goal and two helpers in 6 playoff games.
This season, on a deep and extremely talented Guelph squad that won an OHL Championship and a Memorial Cup run that fell short, Stevenson notched 19 goals and 15 assists in 55 games, while adding 3 goals and 2 assists on the Storms playoff run.
At 6’1”, Stevenson has some good size, but it is a frame that needs to add a lot of bulk. He doesn’t shy away from physicality, going in on the forecheck to battle for pucks, or from going to other dirty areas of the ice. And he wins more then his fair share of battles. Adding that necessary bulk makes him that much more attractive.
Despite playing on that deep Storm roster, Guelph’s coaching staff did not hesitate in sending Stevenson over the boards in any situation, be it to kill a penalty or draw the tough defensive assignments. Stevenson is actually an excellent penalty killer and his defensive awareness in all areas of the ice is at a pretty high level.
There was a noticeable improvement in Stevenson’s skating from a year ago and he will need to continue to work on that aspect of his game. While he’s not slow, if he can continue to work on his speed it will be another asset to his arsenal he can utilize. Adding an east-west component to his skating would also be beneficial.
Stevenson is also a very smart and heads-up player. I happen to think he sees the ice extremely well, makes excellent reads and is a very good playmaker. The question one must ask is: just how much offensive upside is there with Stevenson? The opportunities in Guelph just weren’t there to fully see with all the guys in front of him. But 5 on 5, he out produced some of the players in front of him in this draft class.
I’m not sure what Stevenson will end up being at the next level, but am confident that he can carve himself a career as a third line winger who can kill penalties, provide some energy and chip in some offense while he’s at it.
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Preseason, November: B Prospect, Mid-term: 55 North American Skaters
During the 2016-2017 season, Ottawa 67’s defenceman Nikita Okhotyuk played his hockey back in his native Russia for his hometown team in Chelyabinsk. He began the year showing promising offensive numbers in Russia’s Under-17 league before moving up the Russia’s equivalent to the OHL, the MHL. Following his season, the 67’s would use the 16th overall pick to select him in the CHL Import Draft.
Okhotyuk brought with him plenty of international experience having represented Russia at the Under-17’s, Under-18’s and the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament. He also brought with him some excellent leadership qualities, having worn a letter for Russia and was Captain of his Russian squad at the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament.
Okhotyuk would make the 67’s roster during the 2017-2018 season and he would wear the barber shop pole uniform 53 times during the season and score 5 goals and assist on 6 others.
The 2018-2019 season saw the 67’s being heavy favorites for an OHL Championship and a Memorial Cup run. The 67’s blueline was deep and often saw Okhotyuk playing on the third pair. He dressed in 56 regular season games (there was a 3-game suspension in there) scoring just 2 goals and assisting on 15. What is interesting to note with the 67’s blueline is that for the vast majority of the season they carried 7 defencemen – all left shots so you always had someone skating on their weak side.
Despite not getting top quality minutes, Okhotyuk’s ranking on various public rankings has remained virtually unchanged. NHL Central Scouting ranked him 55th among North American skaters on their mid-term rankings, and he dropped just one spot on their final rankings.
At this point, after two OHL seasons. It’s difficult to determine what type of player Okhotyuk will be at the next level. There is no questioning his determination, drive and work ethic. His body is already almost filled out. He’s a very good skater with excellent edgework. His mobility is excellent in any direction.
Defensively, there isn’t a lot of work to be done by Okhotyuk. He has a very active stick, keeps his gaps tight, rides people out along the wall, battles hard in front of his goal, is one of the better open ice hitters in the league and is a superb shot blocker – OHL coaches recognized that ability in the annual Coaches Poll.
His skating allowed him to retrieve pucks quickly. However, he didn’t always show that he was capable of making the right play. He was caught at times trying to force plays that would result in turnovers. But as the season progressed, there was a marked improvement in his awareness and decision making. His skating is good enough that he can rush the puck out of the zone and his passing is very good. As his confidence grew and his opportunities with more ice time grew, those qualities became more evident.
It’s Okhotyuk’s offensive upside that raises questions. As the season wore on, he began jumping up into the play more often and with greater confidence. He has a howitzer of a shot from the blueline, but to often he passes on the opportunity to put the puck to the net. His vision is good and he is an excellent passer, which should help him offensively.
At the very least, Okhotyuk can be an excellent shut down defender who will kill penalties and play a physical game that won’t put you down a man (suspension aside here). At best, he can be all that and add some timely offence.
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Pre-season, November: NR. Mid-term: 173rd NA Skaters
For London Ontario native and Saginaw Spirits’ defender Mason Millman, not being listed on National Hockey League Central Scouting’s Players to Watch List in both the pre-season and November’s lists came as a surprise. But that was corrected on their mid-term list as he was ranked 173rd among North American skaters. Millman climbed 48 spots on Central’s Final Rankings to 125th among North American skaters. That puts him in position as a late 6th early 7th round pick at the NHL Draft in June.
Millman played his Minor Midget AAA hockey with the London Jr Knights during the 2016-2017 season, compiling 5 goals and 14 assists in 33 games. He would add a goal and 8 helpers in 11 playoff matchups, and a goal and 2 assists at 6 OHL Cup games.
Millman would play the 2017-2018 season with the St Thomas Stars of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League and score 6 goals and 16 assists on 46 games. He was voted the GOJHL Most Outstanding First Year Defenceman and (Western) and to the GOJHL Rookie All-Star Team (Western). Millman would get his feet wet in the OHL playing in 6 games for the Spirit but did not register a point.
This season, Millman would play in 66 games for Saginaw and score 3 goals while adding 22 assists and finish with a plus-22. He would add 2 goals and 3 assists in 13 playoff games and finish with a plus-12 as the Spirit lost in 7 games in the Western Conference Finals.
Millman is a puck move defenceman with very good skating abilities and excellent lateral movement. In the offensive zone he makes quick, decisive decisions with a knack for pinching at the right time to keep plays alive. He sees the ice extremely well and can deliver tape-to-tape passes. He can quarterback the powerplay and shows great abilities there walking the line and playing patiently waiting for lanes to open. However, his shot from the point is weak and doesn’t always get it through. It needs some work and some of that may come as he adds some strength. His low shots on goal total (86) may speak to a lack of confidence in his shot as well. Millman finished seventh among draft eligible players in scoring.
Millman’s ability to use his hockey smarts defensively is a big help. He understands his first responsibility as a defender is to look after his own zone, and he usually finds himself in the right position to defend. His skating, especially his lateral movement allows him to angle off opponents extremely well. He keeps his gaps close and has a decent reach, but would like to see a more active stick. I would also like to see him take the body more. He has the size, but the frame isn’t quite there yet.
Millman can move the puck out of the d-zone and into transition. He can skate it out of the zone but you are more likely to see him move the puck with stellar passing abilities. He picks his spots on when to jump into the play but has shown to be effective in transition.
OHL Draft: Round 4, 76th overall, 2017 Priority Selection by the Flint Firebirds
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Pre-season, November: C Prospect. Mid-term: 138th North America
Belleville, Ontario native and Wellington Dukes defender Zachary Uens is committed to Merrimack College beginning with the 2019-2020 season.
Prior to completing two seasons with the Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Uens played his Minor Midget AAA with the Quinte Red Devils. In 35 games, Uens scored 7 goals and assisted on 22 others during the 2016-2017 season. He would also play in the OHL Cup with the Red Devils and represent Team OMHA at the OHL Gold Cup. He would join the Dukes for two games before joining the club full time the following season.
Uens’ first season in the OJHL is one he will probably always remember. In 54 games he scored 5 goals and assisted on 18 others. He was named to the OJHL’s second all-prospects squad. The Dukes won the OJHL Championship (Buckland Cup) during his rookie season and the squad went on to win the Dudley-Hewitt Cup and represented Central Canada at the RBC Cup to determine Canada’s top Junior A team.
At the RBC Cup, Uens and the Dukes lost a heartbreaker to the Chilliwack Chiefs by a score of 4-2. During the 25-game playoff run Uens scored 2 goals and 4 assists.
This season Uens was named to the OJHL first all-prospect team after scoring 6 goals and 16 assists while appearing in just 34 games. His points per game would put him in the top 5 among OJHL defenders. He would add 2 goals and 8 helpers in 22 playoff games.
Uens isn’t a flashy player that brings fans out of their seats. Instead, he goes quietly about his business and rarely gets caught making a bad decision. Uens is a very smooth skater with some deceptive quickness in his feet. Defensively, he understands the importance of keeping gaps tight and is swiftness moving east-west as well as north-south allows him to do so. He angles people off extremely well and has decent size and doesn’t shy away from physicality.
Uens is quick to retrieve pucks and isn’t shy about skating out of the zone and transitioning to offence. His ability to make long, accurate stretch passes is off the charts and one of the better parts of his game. When in transition Uens is more then willing to jump into the play. But he plays it safe and won’t take many risks.
Offensively, Uens walks the line very well and can “wait it out” for a seam to open up. And with his vision and passing skills, he finds those lanes.
Like fellow OJHL defender a year ago, Dustyn McFaul, Uens is a project that will spend a few years in the NCAA. For an NHL team with a lot of depth on the blue line that can wait the 4 years maximum in the NCAA and then another year in the American Hockey League, Uens could be a good late round find.
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Pre-season, November: C Prospect. Mid-term: 183 NA Skaters
Sudbury Wolves blueliner Liam Ross played his Minor Midget AAA hockey with the Mississauga Reps during the 2016-2017 season notching 4 goals and 8 helpers while appearing in 32 games. He added a goal in 8 games at the OHL Cup as the Reps went on to win the Championship. The Wolves would select Ross in the 4th round, 63rd overall at the 2017 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
Ross would enter his rookie season with the Wolves a year ago and play in all but 8 games. He scored 4 goals and assisted on 5 others in those 60 contests. He upped his offensive output this season with 7 goals and 22 assists while appearing in all 68 games. He added a helper in the Playoffs, as the Wolves were eliminated in the second round.
Ross is an intelligent two-way defender whose defensive game is already ahead of the development curve expected at this stage. However, his upside is directly linked to just how high his offensive abilities can take him.
The general consensus is that Ross’ skating is just average. He has a short stride that prevents him from generating a quick first step. That quickness is lacking moving east-west as well.
That said, Ross makes up for any skating deficiencies with high level hockey IQ. Defensively, he keeps his gaps close and uses a long reach and active stick to break up plays. He angles opponents off extremely well but adding more physicality to his game would make him even more effective. He needs to become quicker in his puck retrieval and skating out of his own zone, but he does make a very good pass to transition to offense.
Offensively, Ross will take some chances. He won’t always take risks, but is adept at knowing when to pinch and has some success when doing so. His vision is very good and he identifies them quickly and is able to deliver a perfect pass. He possesses a deceptively heavy shot from the point and is able to get it through traffic and on target more often then not.
I’ve said it before and it is worth repeating when discussing Ross: I’m not worried about skating as I was just a few short years ago. There are so many quality skating coaches out there and the list of players who have improved their skating is a long one.
As long as the player has a willingness to put the work in, it shouldn’t be a problem. There’s nothing seen from Ross that suggests he wouldn’t put in the effort.
NHL Central Scouting Rankings: Pre-season, November: B Prospect. Mid-term: 63rd North America
When it comes to NHL Central Scouting, Matvey (Matvei) Guskov has been a virtual flat line in their rankings. And that’s not a bad thing. He started off the year where he was expected and did nothing to hurt his draft value finishing off pretty much how he started the season as an early to mid third round pick.
Born in Russia, Guskov plied his trade with CSKA Moskva Under-17, Under-18 and Krasnaya of the MHL (Russia’s equivalent to the OHL) during the 2017-2018 season. He came across the pond after the Knights selected him 42nd overall at the 2018 CHL Import Draft with a reputation of being a skilled, offensive forward who was well on his way to developing his two-way game.
Guskov has represented Russia internationally on several occasions: The Under-17, Under-18, The Hlinka-Gretzky where he scored twice in five games.
Guskov finished the season scoring 12 goals (11th among rookies), 18 assists (16th among rookies), and 30 points (12th among rookies) in 59 games (35th among rookies). His 12 goals game on 107 shots for a respectable 11.2% shooting percentage. To break that down by zone, Guskov was 21. 4% from high danger zone areas, 12.5% in the mod danger zone area and 8.2% from the low danger zone areas.
Of Guskov’s 18 helpers on the season, 11 of them were primary assists which speaks to his vision and abilities to make plays.
As stated earlier, Guskov had the reputation of being a solid two-way player. His ability to play the defensive side of the game was only helped by playing on a Dale Hunter coached team. It was evident from the start, but as he got more and more use to the North American ice surface and with top notch coaching, his ability in all zones became more prominent.
At 6’1” Guskov has good size but is a lanky kid. He needs to add a lot of bulk to his frame. But that doesn’t scare him. He’s willing to drive the net, fight through traffic and has a willingness to battle on the walls. He is a good skater with good top end speed and has an ability to turn on the jets when in stride to beat defenders one-on-one.
Guskov has a very good wrist shot with a surprisingly quick release. His accuracy is very good and he can surprise goaltenders. One thing he has to learn is when to be selfish and when to use his teammates. Often times, I see him shooting when he should be passing and others he passes when he should be shooting.
Here’s my thing when it comes to Guskov: He can play all three forward positions. But which one is he best suited for? I think his off wing is not the best option. I like a guy there who possesses an excellent one-timer and I don’t think Guskov is that guy. His two-way game suggests he is best suited down the middle. And while he has shown some intriguing playmaking abilities, I don’t think its at the point of development I would like to see at this stage.