- 5 USNTDP Players to Watch
- 5 QMJHL Players to Watch
- 5 Russian Players to Watch
- 5 WHL Players to Watch
- 3 NCAA Players to Watch
- 9 European Players to Watch
While the 2020 NHL Draft hasn’t happened yet, this would normally be the time where we start to turn our attention to the following edition of the event. For the sake of normalcy, I’m going to begin the 2021 NHL Draft coverage with a seven-part series introducing some of the names you’ll want to keep an eye one when the 2020-21 hockey seasons start – whenever that may be.
This is the seventh and final edition in the series and frankly one of the hardest to limit to five. The OHL always has a big number of players to watch for. For proof, take a look at 2020 with potential stars Quinton Byfield, Marco Rossi, Jamie Drysdale, and Cole Perfetti. That could be just the top 10! The 2021 NHL Draft will have no shortage of OHL talent either and just might have the first-overall pick in the draft this year. Yeah, you’re going to want to find time to watch some OHL action this season.
As we begin to look towards the upcoming hockey season, here are five players in the league that you need to keep an eye on (alphabetically listed).
Daniil Chayka, D, Guelph Storm
After being drafted seventh overall in the 2019 OHL Draft, Daniil Chayka has been impressing. In his rookie season, the Russian put up five goals, nine assists and 14 points in 56 games, before helping the team to an OHL title and Memorial Cup Championship with no points in the 24-game postseason – albeit he saw limited minutes. He was named to the Second All-Rookie Team.
This past season, Chayka took a step forward more than doubling all of his totals in the same number of games. He had 11 goals, 23 assists, and 34 points prior to the season being cancelled. The defender was also an alternate captain on Team Russia in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, winning a gold medal and collecting two assists. He added two more points (a goal and an assist) at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge, where he was named to the All-Star Team.
The 6-foot-2 defender is a great skater, who plays massive minutes. He has a smooth, fluid stride with good speed. He’s definitely a pass-first defender who loves to dish the puck out to his teammates. He has an average shot, but he doesn’t use it too often, opting for the pass in most situations.
But he won’t be breaking any scoring records. Where Chayka shines is in his own end, which always impresses me for players his age. He’s just so hard to beat, using his body and his long reach to get in lanes, break up plays, and when he needs to, knock attackers off the puck. Expect Chayka to get some top-10 consideration this season.
Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts
Coming into this season, you knew Brandt Clarke was going to be something special. After all, he was coming off of a 113-point season (35 goals, 78 assists) in 73 games for the Don Mills Flyers. Oh, and he’s a defenseman. Needless to say, in his rookie OHL season – he did not disappoint. There’s a chance that Clarke could take over Aatu Räty as the top prospect in this draft.
Clarke was drafted fourth overall by the Barrie Colts in 2019, stepping right into the league and impressing almost every time he was on the ice. He put up six goals, 32 assists (the most of all rookies), and 38 points in 57 games. He was named to the First All-Rookie Team. On top of this, he played in the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge where he had a goal and five assists in five games.
His hockey sense is what could drive him to the first-overall selection. He sees the ice so well, allowing him to pick off passes and cut off lanes before attackers even reach his zone. From this elite hockey IQ, he makes very good decisions on the ice, knowing when to pinch and when to hang back.
He’s also a very good skater, using a long, powerful stride and smooth movements to weave in and out of traffic. When he has the puck on his stick, he doesn’t sacrifice speed and he’s able to make strong plays off the rush. He’s a very mature player for his age that can hold his own in the defensive end, but this is where he needs to focus his development. Still, this is a high-end prospect that is a must-watch for 2020-21.
Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes
In his rookie season, Mason McTavish came out guns blazing and ready to make an impact. He did just that, earning early indications of a first-round talent. He’s a very interesting prospect that has so far lived up to his fifth-overall selection in 2019.
Stepping into his first season of OHL action, the centreman finished second in both goal-scoring and points to 15-year-old exceptional player Shane Wright. McTavish collected 29 goals, 13 assists, and 42 points in 57 games. Just by looking at his numbers, you can tell he likes to put the puck in the net.
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound centreman gets ahold of the puck and never lets it go. He uses his body to protect the puck extremely well, rarely giving up turnovers. He’ll maintain this while driving to the net, deep in traffic, and still manage to get a shot off. Yeah, he’s pretty impressive. He also uses his body to knock players off the puck, showing that he knows how to use his size very well.
And then there’s his shot. Oh boy, that shot. McTavish can rip it like no one’s business, getting all of his weight behind his wrist shot and firing off an extremely accurate chance. 29 goals for a rookie don’t lie. With him likely getting a bump up the lineup this season, expect McTavish to have a very big season and be high up the goals leaderboard.
Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint Firebirds
The 2018-19 season was pretty good for Brennan Othmann. Playing with Clarke on the Don Mills Flyers, the left winger scored 66 goals, adding 80 assists for 146 points in 72 games. Those are ridiculous numbers. After the Flint Firebirds selected him second overall in the OHL Draft, expectations were high.
Well, the rookie didn’t disappoint, finishing 10th in rookie scoring thanks to 17 goals, 16 assists, and 33 points in 55 games. His 17 goals were sixth among rookies. He was named to the Second All-Rookie Team for his efforts. Othmann also dressed for Team Canada at the under-17s, collecting three goals, three assists, and six points in five games.
Othmann is similar to McTavish in that his shot is deadly. It’s an absolute laser beam. Whether it’s his snapshot or a one-timer, he’s ridiculously accurate when he fires the puck. However, he only took 87 shots this season, choosing to pass the puck off rather than firing it himself. Watch his goal totals rise next season as he plays with a little more confidence.
He does a great job reading the ice and knowing how to create space for himself. He then uses his creativeness and agile feet to makes sure he gets himself and the puck to that spot. As for his skating, he uses his edges very well but doesn’t accelerate as quickly as some of the others on this list. With more confidence and a faster first step, Othmann could be one of the best forwards in this class.
Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers
The 38th and final prospect I’m highlighting in this series is Kitchener Rangers’ centreman, Francesco Pinelli. Coming off of a 114-point (49 goals, 65 assists) season with the Toronto Red Wings, the forward was selected 12th overall by the Rangers and stepped right into the OHL.
Much like the other OHLers on this list, Pinelli didn’t disappoint in his debut season. He put up 18 goals, 23 assists, and 41 points in 59 games. Again, he also played in the U17s, scoring one goal in the five games played. As Pinelli develops, expect these numbers to continue to grow and grow.
In the NCAA edition of this series, I mentioned that Matthew Beniers is going to be known for his two-way play. Well, so is Pinelli. The nice thing about this forward is his adaptability. He can play down the middle or on the wing, on the top line or in the bottom six. His determined mentality to be successful in all situations was proven this year as he was used in all situations.
In the offensive end, he knows how to find space so well and he’s very positionally sound. That’s extremely impressive for his age. He has an absolute bomb of a one-timer and as the season went on, he got more and more comfortable using it. He forces turnovers, he makes offensive and defensive plays, and he’s going to be a very exciting player to follow this season.
Others to Watch
- Francesco Arcuri, C, Kingston Frontenacs
- Giancarlo Chanton, D, Niagara IceDogs
- Ethan Del Mastro, D, Mississauga Steelheads
- Tristan Lennox, G, Saginaw Spirit
- Chase Stillman, RW, Sudbury Wolves
2021 NHL Draft Will See Many OHLers – As Usual
By now, you know that the OHL is a hotbed for NHL talent. Looking towards the 2021 Draft class, this is no different. Clarke could be a top-two talent, Chayka could be top-10, and McTavish, Othmann, and Pinelli will – at the very least – be in the top-20 conversation. And that’s just the five I mentioned here. he OHL is one of the premier development leagues out there and is it ever going to be something to behold for the 2020-21 season.
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.