OHL Writers’ Draft Eligible Player of the Month for October

When it comes to draft eligible players from the 2018-2019 Ontario Hockey League season, most of the attention will be focused around Ryan Suzuki of the Barrie Colts and Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs, and rightfully so.

Unless you are the most ardent follower, then a young netminder from the Peterborough Petes being named our draft eligible player of the month may come as a surprise to you. That young netminder is none other than Hunter Jones.

Don’t be fooled by his 6-5-0 record during the month of October. The Petes have suffered through some key injuries and had it not been for Jones, that record could have been worse. In those eleven contests in October, Jones posted a remarkable .939 save percentage.

Goalie #29 Hunter Jones of the Peterborough Petes
Goalie Hunter Jones of the Peterborough Petes. Photo courtesy of OHL Images

As of today, no goaltender has played more minutes then Jones (897) including some seasoned veterans: Jacob Ingham (780), Cedrick Andree (755), Matthew Villalta (719) and Michael DiPietro (641). Jones has also faced more rubber (527) then any other goaltender, 127 more then Ingham and stopped more shots (491), 130 more then Stephen Dhillon of the Niagara Ice Dogs.

Jones currently sits forth in goals against average among goaltenders with four or more starts with a 2.41 goals-against average. He currently sits second in save percentage at .931.

Jones was the OHL goaltender of the week and runner up to the CHL goaltender of the week for the week of October 8-14 – he was both the OHL and CHL goaltender of the week on opening week.

His performance earned him an invitation to participate for Team OHL in the upcoming Canada-Russia Super Series, a precursor to the World Junior Championships.

Also considered were Suzuki, who posted 2 goals and 11 assists in 9 games, Kaliyev and his 7 goals and 4 assists in 11 games and Cole MacKay of the Soo Greyhounds who recorded 2 goals and 10 assists in 11 games.

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CHL Announces Weekly Award Winners

Spirit’s Damien Giroux named CHL Player of the Week

Toronto, ON – The Canadian Hockey League today announced that Minnesota Wild prospect Damien Giroux of the Saginaw Spirit is the CHL Player of the Week for the regular season week ending October 14 after scoring four goals and three assists for seven points in two games with a plus-minus rating of plus-7.

Giroux contributed to seven of the Spirit’s eight goals last week helping extend their winning-streak to five games for a hold of first place in the OHL’s West Division standings with a 6-2-1-0 record.  His first of back-to-back multi-point performances featured a career-high five points and first hat-trick scored entirely in the third period to earn first star honours of a 6-2 win over the North Bay Battalion.  On Sunday the first year captain scored the game-winning goal for the second straight game and added one assist as second star of a 2-1 victory over the Kitchener Rangers.

An 18-year-old from Hanmer, Ont., Giroux is playing in his third season with the Spirit after being chosen by the club in the third round of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.  So far this season he’s produced six goals and five assists for 11 points in nine games following a sophomore season of 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points in 68 games.  Giroux was picked by the Wild in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft in June.

Also considered for the award this week was forward Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders who scored five goals and three assists for eight points in three games, and top 2020 NHL Draft prospect Alexis Lafreniere of the Rimouski Oceanic who scored twice with seven assists for nine points in four games.

2018-19 CHL Players of the Week – Regular Season:

Oct. 8 – Oct. 14: Damien Giroux (Saginaw Spirit)
Oct. 1 – Oct. 7: Dawson Davidson (Saskatoon Blades)
Sept. 24 – Sept. 30: Luka Burzan (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Sept. 19 – Sept. 23: Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades)

Mooseheads’ Alexis Gravel named Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week

Toronto, ON – The Canadian Hockey League today announced that Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alexis Gravel of the Halifax Mooseheads is the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week for the regular season week ending October 14 after posting a 2-0-0-0 record including one shutout victory for a goals-against-average of 1.00 and save percentage of .970.

Gravel turned aside 65 shots last week for the Mooseheads who have now won three-straight games and rank second in the QMJHL’s overall standings with an 8-2-0-0 record.  On Thursday night his 35-save performance earned him third star honours in an 8-2 road win over the Charlottetown Islanders.  Then on Sunday his 30-save effort produced his second career shutout and first star honours blanking the Acadie-Bathurst Titan by a 5-0 score.

An 18-year-old from Asbestos, Que., Gravel is playing in his third season with the Mooseheads who chose him in the second round of the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft.  So far this season he has six wins in eight starts for the 2019 Memorial Cup presented by Kia hosts maintaining a 2.51 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage which improve upon his 2017-18 marks of 3.38 and .890 respectively in 39 appearances.  Gravel was a sixth round selection by the Blackhawks in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Also considered for the award this week was 2019 NHL Draft prospect Hunter Jones of the Peterborough Petes who posted a 4-0-0-0 record making 122 saves for a goals-against-average of 1.19 and save percentage of .968.  In the WHL, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ian Scott of the Prince Albert Raiders maintained a 3-0-0-0 record including one shutout victory while stopping a total of 77 shots for a goals-against-average of 1.00 and save percentage of .963.

2018-19 Vaughn CHL Goaltenders of the Week – Regular Season:

Oct. 8 – Oct. 14: Alexis Gravel (Halifax Mooseheads)
Oct. 1 – Oct. 7: Trent Miner (Vancouver Giants)
Sept. 24 – Sept. 30: Luke Richardson (Kitchener Rangers)
Sept. 19 – Sept. 23: Hunter Jones (Peterborough Petes)

Goaltenders: Is This the Year For the OHL?

At the 2018 National Hockey League Draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected Jacob Ingham of the Mississauga Steelheads in the sixth round, 175th overall, while the Las Vegas Goldens Knights chose London Knights puck stopper Jordan Kooy in the seventh round, 208th overall.

At the 2017 Draft, the Vancouver Canucks selected Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires in the third round, 64th overall. Also selected in the third round was Sault Ste Marie netminder Matthew Villalta, 72nd overall by the Los Angeles Kings. Kaden Fulcher of the Hamilton Bulldogs and Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals were signed as free agents by the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins respectively before the start of the 2017-2018 season.

Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

In 2016, Tyler Parsons of the London Knights was selected in the second round, 54th overall, by the Calgary Flames. The New Jersey Devils would nab Evan Cormier from the Saginaw Spirit in the fourth round, 105th overall.  Dylan Wells of the Peterborough Petes was selected in the fifth round. 123rd overall, by the Flames neighbours the Edmonton Oilers. while the Carolina Hurricanes would take Jeremy Helvig of the Kingston Frontenacs in the fifth round, 134th overall.

In 2015, MacKenzie Blackwood would be the only Ontario Hockey League goaltender selected at the draft. The New Jersey Devils would select Blackwood in the second round, 42 overall.

Ask around in hockey circles and many would tell you that goaltending is an area of weakness in the OHL when it comes to the NHL Draft. 2017 looks good at the moment, but Fulcher and Keyser were never drafted which means all 31 NHL Clubs passed on them seven times.

So why would 2019, which takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 21-22 be any different? Well the simple answer is: I don’t know. I don’t have some magic crystal ball that helps predict the future. Just the sheer number of goaltenders entering their draft year adds some intrigue. Add to them a couple of undrafted goaltenders that will be re-entering the draft adds another dimension.

During the 2016-2017 OHL season, an undrafted (in the OHL) Villalta drew my attention very early on. And as the season progressed, his draft stock began to rise. All the way to number 72 in the draft. So, is there another Matthew Villalta knocking at the door in 2018-2019?

When NHL Central Scouting released it’s players to watch list earlier this month, five OHL goaltenders were found on the list. They include Mack Guzda of the Owen Sound Attack as a B prospect, Luke Cavallin of the Flint Firebirds, Hunter Jones of the Peterborough Petes, Nicholas Daws of the Guelph Storm, and Kari Piiroinen of the Windsor Spitfires, all as C prospects. (a B prospect is considered a second or third rounder while a C prospect is considered a fourth, fifth or sixth round prospect).

It was no surprise to see Guzda at the top of Central’s list as he already had the benefit of an OHL season under his belt. During the 2017-2018 season, Guzda appeared in 30 games for the Attack posting a 3.20 goals-against average and .879 save percentage. But it has been a less-then-expected start for Guzda and his Attack Team. In seven games he boasts a 2-5-0-0 record with a save percentage at just .859 and a goals-against average of 4.11. But I have no doubt that he will improve on those stats as the season progresses.

Much like Villalta during the 2016-2017 season, if you haven’t started paying attention to the Petes’ Hunter Jones, then you should probably start now before you lag behind. He leads all OHL goaltenders in appearances (10), minutes played (539), shots faced (323), saves (303) and wins (8). Among puck stoppers who have played in four or more contests, he trails only Kooy in goals-against average (2.22 versus 2.01) and leads all netminders in save percentage (.938).

In eight of the complete games Jones has started this season, he has faced under 35 shots just twice. He had one poor start, allowing 6 goals against the Hamilton Bulldogs in two periods on September 29, 2018. His other starts would be a record setting pace.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, not making Central Scouting’s opening list is Hamilton netminder Zachary Roy. One has to wonder if things keep going the way they are in the Steel City, if there will be a goaltending controversy in the crease. Nick Donofrio, who went undrafted in 2018 and re-enters the draft, was the backup last season to Fulcher and the incumbent starter for this season.

It’s been a slow start for Donofrio, posting a 3-3-1-0 record with a 3.74 goals-against average and .881 save percentage. Roy was given his first OHL start on October 10 and put in a brilliant 42 save performance in a 5-2 victory over the Windsor Spitfires. A week later, Roy was given the start against the Mississauga Steelheads stopping 29 of 30 shots and getting the 5-1 victory. He was rewarded for his performance and started in back-to-back games and getting a 6-5 overtime victory on the road against the Oshawa Generals. Roy now has a 2.61 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Perhaps the goaltender that is going to be the toughest to get a read on is Flint Firebirds’ Luke Cavallin. The Firebirds are off to a dismal start at 0-9-0-0 having allowed the most goals (53) and scoring the fewest (17) so wins are going to be tough to come by in Flint.

Emanuel Vella is the number one goaltender in Flint. Cavallin has only appeared in two complete games this season, five in total. He’s come on in relief of Vella twice, not allowing a goal on both occasions. But he was also given the hook on one occasion in a game everyone would like to forget, a 12-1 drubbing by the Erie Otters.

The only way to get a good read on Cavallin is to hope he plays and plays a lot and to constantly have eyes on his performance and not paying attention to the outcome. Because the outcome may not be pretty.

Kari Piiroinen of the Windsor Spitfires is in kind of a similar situation. Not that the Spits are the Firebirds, but that you need to have eyes on Piiroinen constantly as you never know when he will make his next appearance. At least that is what one would think when you are backing up the best netminder in the OHL in Micheal DiPietro.

However, the Finnish born Piiroinen has started three of the Spits nine games and came on in relief of DiPietro in another. He boasts a 2-2-0-0 record with a goals-against average of 2.70 and a save percentage of .913, all of which are better then DiPietro’s stats. It’s possible the Spitfires might consider trading DiPietro in order to recoup some assets and that could benefit Piiroinen and his draft stock.

In Sault Ste Marie, Villalta is the incumbent for the Greyhounds. They began the season with OHL veteran Tyler Johnson as his backup, but he has since made the jump to the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. In comes Ethan Taylor, who was not on Central Scouting’s list.

Taylor has gotten 2 starts in the last ten days and has come on in relief of Villalta where he stopped all 15 shots he faced in a 6-2 loss the Ottawa 67’s handed the Greyhounds. Taylor has exceptional numbers: a 1-0-1-0 record to go along with his 1.65 goals-against average and .973 save percentage. There was a lot of intrigue surrounding Taylor, and with Johnson moving on, a window of opportunity has opened up for him. Now he has to make the best of his chances when his number is called upon.

The Guelph Storm’s Nicholas Daws did make Central Scouting’s list. He appeared in 14 games for the Storm a season ago posting a goals-against average of 4.06 and a save percentage of .880 and a 1-7-1-1 record. He has started three games for the Storm this season and his stats have regressed from a year ago with his 4.25 goals-against average and .843 saver percentage and a 2-1-0-0 record.

Daws is backing up veteran Anthony Popovich and will likely see more starts then the other backups who are draft eligible. The Storm currently lead the Midwest Division, second overall in the league, with a 6-2-1-0 record but with the league’s eighth worst goals allowed (33).  There is a real opportunity here for Daws and the Storm if he can put it all together and improve on his early season start.

Ryan Dugas of the 3-7-0-0 Kingston Frontenacs is another netminder not on Central Scouting’s list. The Fronts occupy the basement of the East Division and are third from the bottom in the entire league. Although he is backing up veteran Brendan Bonello, Dugas has been a bright spot of sorts for Kingston.

Dugas has appeared in 4 games, one of those being in relief of Bonello, and has a 2-1-0-0 record. His first OHL game was a 27 save shutout performance on September 29 against the Erie Otters. He holds a 2.52 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. He is Kingston’s goalie of the future and if he can steal some starts – and wins – he will draw some attention.

Finally, we have to give a mention to Barrie Colts netminder Jet Greaves. Currently behind veteran Kai Edmonds and 2017 Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Maksim Zhukov who the Colts selected in the 2018 Import Draft, I really like Greaves coming into the season if not for name alone.

The fact is that Edmonds and Zhukov were not getting it done for the Colts, who sit second to last in the Central Division and Greaves got a chance and has outperformed his partners. Although he has a 1-1-0-0 record, his loss came against the Mississauga Steelheads in which he stopped 28 of 30 shots and his teammates could only score once.

Greaves holds a 1.52 goals-against average with a .949 save percentage. It could be in the Colts best interest to give him more starts right now and see if he can run with it.

With all that said and out of the way, 2019 is not the best draft class to come out of the OHL. In fact, it could be one of the worst ever for the OHL. And that could bode well for a goaltending class that is better then usual – at least in sheer numbers.

CHL Announces Weekly Award Winners

Blades’ Kirby Dach named CHL Player of the Week

Toronto, ON – The Canadian Hockey League today announced that 2019 NHL Draft prospect Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades is the CHL Player of the Week for the opening week of regular season action ending September 23 after scoring three goals and four assists for seven points in two games with a plus-minus rating of plus-5.

Dach produced back-to-back multi-point performances leading the Blades to a home-and-home series sweep over the defending WHL champion Swift Current Broncos.  He assisted on both of the club’s goals in Friday’s season opening 2-1 victory, then recorded his first career hat-trick on home ice Saturday while adding two helpers as first star of the 8-0 win.  The five-point effort is a new career-high as the Blades begin a season 2-0 for the first time since 2011-12.

A 17-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., Dach is playing in his second full season with the Blades after being chosen by the club with the second overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.  He finished fourth in rookie scoring a year ago with 46 points in 52 games and was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning under-18 team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Also considered for the award this week was QMJHL rookie Josh Lawrence of the Saint John Sea Dogs scoring two goals and two assists for four points in two games, and Los Angeles Kings prospect Akil Thomas of the Niagara IceDogs who scored once with four assists for five points in just one game to start his OHL season.

2018-19 CHL Players of the Week – Regular Season:

Sept. 19 – Sept. 23: Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades)

Petes’ Hunter Jones named Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week

Toronto, ON – The Canadian Hockey League today announced that 2019 NHL Draft prospect Hunter Jones of the Peterborough Petes is the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week for the opening week of regular season action ending September 23 after posting a 2-0-0-0 record including a shutout victory for a goals-against-average of 1.50 and save percentage of .962.

Jones turned aside 75 shots last week for the Petes who finished OHL opening week with a pair of victories against fellow East Division competition.  On Thursday night he recorded his first career OHL shutout with 38 saves to earn first star honours blanking the Kingston Frontenacs by a 4-0 score, then made 37 saves on Sunday and earned second star honours in a 7-3 triumph over the Ottawa 67’s.

A recently turned 18-year-old from Brantford, Ont., Jones was originally chosen by the Petes in the fifth round of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.  He appeared in 15 contests last season earning three victories with a goals-against-average of 5.14 and save percentage of .866.

Also considered for the award this week was Vegas Golden Knights prospect Dylan Ferguson of the Kamloops Blazers who opened the season with a 2-0-0-0 record while stopping 64 shots for a goals-against-average of 1.00 and save percentage of .970.  In the QMJHL, Tristan Berube of the Gatineau Olympiques posted a 2-0-0-0 record stopping 86 shots for a goals-against-average of 2.50 and save percentage of .945.

2018-19 Vaughn CHL Goaltenders of the Week – Regular Season:

Sept. 19 – Sept. 23: Hunter Jones (Peterborough Petes)

IceDogs’ Akil Thomas named OHL ‘On the Run’ Player of the Week

Toronto, ON – The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Los Angeles Kings prospect Akil Thomas of the Niagara IceDogs is the OHL ‘On the Run’ Player of the Week for the opening week ending September 23 scoring a goal with four assists for five points along with a plus-minus rating of plus-3 recorded in just one game played.

Akil Thomas of the Niagara IceDogs. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Akil Thomas of the Niagara IceDogs. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Thomas and the IceDogs waited until Sunday afternoon for their highly anticipated #OHLOpeningWeek debut after being appointed the Canadian Hockey League’s fifth ranked team in pre-season.  They made the most of the outing picking up an 8-6 road win over the Mississauga Steelheads with the third year centre earning first star honours with a consistent presence from start to finish against their Central Division rivals.  Three of his four helpers contributed to the club’s first three goals including two finishes by the recently acquired Ivan Lodnia, while his lone goal provided insurance in the victory.  The five points by Thomas matches a career-high dating back to his rookie season where he also scored a goal and four assists on March 12, 2017, against the North Bay Battalion.

An 18-year-old born in Brandon, Florida, Thomas joined the IceDogs as the club’s first round pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.  His totals to date include 134 points in 130 career games with an appropriate 44 goals to match his sweater.  Last season his 22 goals surpassed his rookie total by one and he finished second in team scoring with 81 points playing a full 68 games.  The alternate captain was selected by the Kings in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft and recently returned from his first pro camp.

Watch video highlights of Thomas and the IceDogs against the Steelheads.

Also considered for the award this week was Colorado Avalanche prospect Brandon Saigeon of the defending champion Hamilton Bulldogs who scored twice with five assists for seven points in two games, and Peterborough Petes overage forward Christopher Paquette who scored four goals with one assist for five points in a pair of opening week wins.  In goal, Hunter Jones backstopped the Petes in both of their wins picking up his first career shutout in the process while amassing a goals-against-average of 1.50 and save percentage of .962 from an overall #OHLOpeningWeek high of 75 saves.