2021-22 Team: St. Michael’s Buzzers (OJHL)
Date of Birth: October 20, 2003
Place of Birth: Ottawa, Ontario
Ht: 6-foot-8 Wt: 233 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2022 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings: 127th (Among N.A. Skaters)
Jack Sparkes is a towering defender who’s starting to get some attention as the 2022 NHL Draft draws closer. Playing with the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), he put up decent numbers, scoring five goals and 12 points in 37 games. His five markers were tied for 26th league-wide and 11th among defenders under 19 years old, and his 0.135 goals per game were the 23rd highest scoring rate among defencemen thanks to his big, powerful slapshot.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
However, scouts weren’t clamouring to interview Sparkes because of his offensive abilities. Despite not being ranked anywhere in the first two rounds, the 6-foot-8 defender has been called the most physically dominant prospect available in the 2022 Draft. He had the third-longest wingspan at the 2022 NHL Draft Combine, hit 14 minutes on the aerobic fitness test, and owned the fourth-strongest left-handed grip. Of those with the largest wingspans at the Combine, only Maveric Lamoureux showed up in more top-10 test finishes.
Sparkes is similarly dominant on the ice, using his huge frame to win puck battles and screen opposing goaltenders. He uses his size well, throwing devastating hits and using his long reach to knock away pucks from players that try to get around him. He’s not the quickest, but he doesn’t have to be; he has a long stride and can generate some decent speed in a short amount of time. For his size, he’s quite mobile, too, and some scouts have wondered if he’s a better skater than the NHL’s reigning big man, Zdeno Chara. He’s got an edge to his game, too, and isn’t afraid to use it. “He is nasty,” said his coach, Rich Ricci, “If there were more fights in the OJHL, he would destroy guys.”
However, some significant issues have some scouts wondering if Sparkes will make much of an impact at the pro level. When he has the puck, he doesn’t use his movement as much, and his shot is easily telegraphed, and though it’s powerful, most will know exactly where it’s going. Right now, there’s also not much of an offensive side to his game, despite the promising numbers he put up. When asked about some of his scouting reports, he said, “I’m working on improving my game, but I feel I’ve been a little underestimated in my ability so far, and I think I can develop into someone that can show my offensive abilities” (from ‘What do NHL Draft prospects think of their scouting reports? We asked them,’ The Athletic, 6/6/22).
Big players have been overvalued in the past, resulting in the first-round selections of Vladimir Mihalik, Colten Teubert, and Duncan Siemens, all of whom stood at least 6-foot-4 and were noted for their strength and physicality. They also have less than a full season of NHL games combined. But the opposite may be true with Sparkes, as he’s shown up on zero scout’s rankings, even those who look deep into the draft. The league in which he plays will affect that somewhat, as the OJHL is not on the same level as the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). It also doesn’t help that he missed the entire 2020-21 season due to pandemic lockdowns across the province, plus he missed a significant part of 2021-22 with a back injury, which stymied his production in the latter half of the season.
Sparkes is an intriguing package, to say the least. He owns plenty of transferable skills and has shown glimpses of taking his game to the next level, but no one knows if he’ll be able to apply them against tougher competition. There are also some big question marks around his potential, as he’s only been playing defence for three years. Given that, the strides he’s made in the position are astounding, and next year will be a defining step in his development and will show if he’s going to be a depth shutdown defender or become a dominant, two-way force.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Jack Sparkes – NHL Draft Projection
In a pre-pandemic year, Sparkes would be a late pick, likely showing up somewhere in the fifth to seventh rounds. However, with so much in the air, especially with junior players in Ontario, there’s no telling where he could end up. Teams are intrigued, as he had several interviews at the Combine, notably with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. He seems to be in the same vein as the 6-foot-4 Ben Roger, who was a surprise second-round pick by the Senators in 2021. Both are right-handed shots and defensive-minded players with fantastic reach, but Sparkes is still a risky prospect due to the league he plays in, so he’s most likely destined for the third or fourth rounds at the earliest.
“Sparkes’ athletic tool kit is very appealing. He’s a 6-foot-8 defenseman who is quite mobile for his frame. He’s not a blazer but when you see him come up the ice you can easily envision that tool kit in the NHL. Sparkes uses his body, has a big slap shot and has flashes of puck skills, making him a highly appealing pro prospect for several reasons. His offensive game is a long way away though, showing little poise or puck-moving ability. He will be a three-to-four year guy in college, but if he hits, he could be a player.” Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from ‘NHL Draft 2022 top 127 prospects: Juraj Slafkovsky leads Corey Pronman’s list,’ The Athletic – 31/5/22)
“Jack is a late bloomer and is demonstrating a keen desire to become a pro player…Very coachable and a well-liked teammate, Jack has a mean streak to match his hulking figure. He is a great skater for his size, possessing a long reach and a bomb for a shot. We expect big things from him over the next year and a half and with any luck a possible NHL draft selection in June.” Rich Ricci, Buzzers’ Head Coach and General Manager
“Jack Sparkes is a long rangey defender that takes up a ton of room on the blue line. He plays for the Buzzers in the OJHL and is a part of a strong defensive group. He uses his size well to impact the game in different ways. That means physicality is there, long reach and active stick plus a long lanky stride that helps him get around with ease. He is surprisingly coordinated for his size and seems to be pretty solid at 229lbs…I will say I love how he knows what his game is and doesn’t force it. Not much offence despite a heavy shot. The wind-up is just way too long and predictable. Will need work on his footwork along the blue line to get shots through as he’s a pretty stationary shooter from the point. His first step isn’t the quickest but he relies on strong edge work and a long stride to create speed. Sparkes forced a long pass a couple of times and they ended up working out so I wonder if he does have some more offence to his game that is mostly playmaking.” Draft Pro Scouting Report
- Defensive awareness
- Shot power
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Offensive skills
If Sparkes manages to add another level of agility, become more mobile with the puck, and develop a more offensive side to his game, he could be a very dangerous player, potentially sneaking into the second pairing on an NHL roster. Those are some big ifs, though, and right now, the only thing guaranteed is that he’ll need at least three to four years in college before he’ll be ready to turn pro. If those aspects don’t change, he still projects to be a bottom-pair shutdown defender thanks to his big frame and willingness to use it.
Risk – 4/5, Reward – 2/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 3/10, Defence – 7/10
Sparkes has committed to Michigan State University for 2023-24 but was drafted in the second round of the 2020 U18 OHL Draft by the Barrie Colts. He was also drafted by the United States Hockey Leagues’ Lincoln Stars in the fifth round of the 2022 Draft.
Jack Sparkes Statistics
- Sparkes Commits to Michigan State for 2023
- The Giant of the 2022 Draft
- Snippets from the 2022 NHL Scouting Combine
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.