In an Ontario Hockey League traditionally dominated by the London Knights, the Erie Otters have been graced with some very exceptional players that have allowed the club to hold their own in the League. In conjunction with the Otters season ticket holders I interviewed and my subjective opinion, here is my list of the top five players to ever command a roster spot on the Otters:
1. Connor McDavid
The number one pick is essentially a given. McDavid is already on his way to inheriting Sid the (former) Kid’s title as Best Player in the World. He was granted Exceptional Player Status by the OHL in 2012 so he could play for the Otters at age 15, becoming only the third player ever to receive the exemption.
McDavid played three seasons in Erie and increased his output every season, from 25 goals and 41 assists in his first season, to 44 goals and 76 assists in his last, despite sustaining a broken hand early in the season. McDavid captained the Otters to the Western Conference Finals in 2014-15. His draft-year performance earned him the Red Tilson Trophy for the OHL’s most outstanding player by a landslide.
Watching McDavid play in Erie was something special, and the city recognized it, showing up in droves to support the Otters and witness greatness. Even with his pass-first style of play, McDavid still commanded the ice and everyone’s attention. Everyone knew he could easily take the puck from end to end and score as if every other skater on the ice was moving in slow motion. It was a testament to his investment in the team, not only as an extraordinary individual player but a great team player as well.
The mark of the truly great players is in how they elevate their linemates’ play, making those around them better. For this reason, McDavid now rightfully commands the highest salary in the NHL as captain of the Edmonton Oilers and is ranked as the best player to ever come out of the Erie Otters.
2. Brad Boyes
Brad Boyes played all four of his seasons in the OHL with the Otters, from ’98 to ’02. He was an extremely integral player in the Otters’ J. Ross Robertson Cup win in 2002, his last season, in which he averaged 1.63 points per game.
He was voted MVP of the playoffs, as well as Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. In his draft year, Boyes had 82 points with the Otters. He was drafted 24th overall in 2000 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and has played for a number of NHL teams since. The Otters have since retired his jersey in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to the team, calling him the “heart and soul” of their initial OHL championship run in ’02.
3. Dylan Strome
Dylan Strome was drafted second overall in the OHL Priority Selection in 2013 by the Otters. He outscored current Leafs player Mitch Marner and then-teammate Connor McDavid for the OHL scoring title in 2015 with 129 points, setting the Otters record for the most points in one season.
That year, Strome was drafted third overall in McDavid’s NHL Entry Draft year to the Arizona Coyotes. There were some questions about his skating, so the Coyotes opted to develop him more in Erie for the remainder of the 2016-17 season. Upon returning to the Otters, he stepped into McDavid’s role as team captain and led the Otters to their second J. Ross Robertson Cup win in the team’s 21-year history.
4. Alex DeBrincat
Alex DeBrincat made Otters history this past season, passing Brad Boyes to become the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer with 142 career goals. He averaged over a goal per game in the 2016-17 regular season with an extraordinary 65 goals in 63 games. He then went on to lead the team in postseason scoring, helping the Otters win their second J. Ross Robertson Cup in franchise history this past season.
DeBrincat had three consecutive 50+ goal seasons, with over 100 total points in each season with the Otters, becoming the second American player to ever pull that off. Despite having an obvious talent for scoring goals, DeBrincat also, unfortunately, developed a reputation for lacking discipline upon receiving a game misconduct during his World Junior Championship debut for Team USA in 2016 after spearing Team Canada’s Travis Konecny. Subsequently, Team USA cut him from their 2017 World Juniors team despite DeBrincat being one of USA’s top eligible players. He was drafted 39th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks.
5. Ryan O’Reilly
Although he didn’t play for long in Erie, Ryan O’Reilly was nonetheless very productive as an individual Otter and has had a prolific NHL career to boot, making it necessary to include him on this list, in my opinion. O’Reilly was drafted first overall by the Otters in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection Draft and acquired a number of awards during his time in Erie, including Otters Rookie of the Year in 2007-08. Although the Otters weren’t a great team overall at the time, many fans will maintain how special O’Reilly was to watch.
He was drafted 33rd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche and made the team that very season, becoming the first player since Patrice Bergeron to immediately make the NHL as a non-first-round draft pick. O’Reilly played in Colorado for six seasons, winning the Lady Byng in 2013-14. He was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015 where he currently plays as an alternate captain.
Having been on the Otters from ’07 to ’09, O’Reilly is no stranger to being on a bad team and playing admirably. Buffalo finished last in the NHL in the 2014-15 season, yet O’Reilly is still arguably one of the best two-way centers in the League. He is subsequently also the highest paid Sabre ever, having signed a 7-year, $52.5 million contract with the team in 2015. I expect to see O’Reilly be a big contributor in a Sabres playoff run very soon, alongside Jack Eichel.
Like I said, the Otters have had some great players in their history, which makes it very difficult to pick out a definitive, less-than-debatable top five. As so, in no particular order, here are some Otters players that deserve recognition as well:
Pecker never made it past the AHL, but he was key to the Otters’ first title in 2001-02, even though his time in Erie was shorter than with Sault Ste. Marie. Pecker was named Player of the Year in the OHL in 2002 despite missing six weeks with a broken arm.
Brown played three seasons with the Otters in the OHL and was a big contributor to their playoff run in 2013-14. He was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 6th round in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and played in the AHL for the Marlies before being called up to the Leafs in the 2015-16 season where he currently plays. Brown played in every postseason game with the Leafs this past season.
Campoli played four seasons with the Otters. He helped them win their first title in 2001-02 and finished his time in Erie as team captain in 2003-04. He was drafted in 2004 by the Islanders as a 7th round selection. During his NHL career, Campoli played for the Islanders, Senators, Blackhawks and Canadiens before signing in Switzerland and then the Swedish Hockey League.
Colaiacovo played in Erie from 1999-2003. He was another integral player in the Otters’ first Roberston Cup win and was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001, 17th overall. He had a prolific NHL career, playing for five different teams.
Raddysh is currently a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, having been drafted in the second round, 58th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He has played in Erie for three seasons and helped the Otters win their second title this year with 31 points in 22 postseason games, including a hat trick in the championship-clinching game.
Burakovsky played alongside Connor McDavid in 2013-14 where he had 87 points in 57 regular season games, a 1.5 point per game average. He exhibited one of the most wicked wrist shots ever, including NHL players while he was still playing in the OHL. He was drafted in the first round, 23rd overall, by the Washington Capitals in 2013 where he currently plays.
To Watch For:
I expect Michigan-born Lodnia to take his game to another level this coming season with the Otters after having a solid rookie season with 56 points in 66 games. He exhibited flashes of brilliance in the 2016-17 season and I fully expect him to elevate his play in his sophomore season, having just been drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Wild in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.