The Erie Otters found themselves in an interesting spot Saturday morning as the OHL Draft began. Holding the third overall pick, they had lots of ways they could have gone.
The best defenseman in Brandt Clarke was available. Two dynamic centers were available in Connor Lockhart and Mason McTavish. Plus the best goalie to come through in several years in Ben Gaudreau was there for the taking.
In the end, the Otters needed a difference-making forward and they got their guy.
With the third overall pick in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, the Otters took dynamic speedster Lockhart. According to GM Dave Brown, he was the best available player for them at that pick.
“We were looking for a guy that competed really hard,” Brown said. “I think Connor Lockhart is explosive, dynamic, he’s highly skilled, very motivated. He was the guy that made perfect sense. It was the perfect storm.”
Now the Otters have dynamic pieces in place. Lockhart fills a need as a potential top-line difference making center. Jamie Drysdale is a franchise defenseman who is just scratching the surface of his overall potential. Couple that with who is returning to the team and the potential of a top import pick, you have the beginnings of a rise back to prominence for the Otters.
What else happened on Saturday? Let’s dive into my three takeaways from the day. Let’s start with our conversation with Lockhart.
First Impressions of Lockhart
Lockhart spoke to us Saturday afternoon via conference call after the completion of the fifth round. For someone just getting to the OHL, he is a well spoken young man. I came away very impressed.
The one thing that stood out was him saying how much of a desire he has to win. It’s always good news to see someone have that kind of motivation.
In addition, he said that he wants to get into the right habits now. He wants to spend a lot of time in the gym. He wants to eat right. He wants to do what it takes now to make that a part of his daily routine. This shows how hard of a worker he can be. If he can demonstrate his words, then the Otters made the right pick.
Lockhart has not been to Erie yet. But he did say that at the end of April, he would come down and visit the city and the team. He said he was honored to be selected by the Otters and can’t wait to get started.
Despite some rumors of him not interested in reporting, Brown said that he sees no issues with Lockhart reporting. Lockhart told us how grateful he was for the Otters management staff helping him answer his questions and concerns.
The expectation is that Lockhart and other prospects will be a development camp. That is expected to happen sometime in May, but exact dates are not yet confirmed.
The Rest of the Picks
Here are the other players the Otters selected on Saturday.
- 37th overall: Colby Saganiuk
- 65th overall: Brett Bressette
- 84th overall: Christian Kyrou
- 86th overall: Wil Murphy
- 126th overall: Benjamin White
- 146th overall: Forbes Andersen
- 173rd overall: Thomas Lonsdale
- 186th overall: Vincent Salice
- 190th overall: Benjamin West
- 206th overall: Owain Johnston
- 226th overall: Cole Melady
- 246th overall: Ryan Forberg
- 263rd overall: Ethan Schoonderbeek
- 266th overall: Frank Tafelski
- 286th overall: Joshua Reilly
A couple of quick thoughts here. The most intriguing name on this list is Saganiuk. He is committed to the US program but was regarded as one of the best forwards available in this draft. Brown said Saganiuk was 100% committed to the US program, but then said he has no doubt in his mind Saganiuk would play in the OHL.
What exactly does this mean? To me, Saganiuk will stay with the US program and then eventually join the Otters. As of this writing, Saganiuk does not have an NCAA commitment. It’s a gamble for sure, but could be a huge payoff later if Brown’s comment is correct.
Brett Bressette is a very interesting name also. He suffered a gruesome injury and missed most of his season. But according to Brown, he saw him as a first rounder. Injuries might scare some teams off. But if Bressette can play to his potential, landing a first rounder 65th could be a steal. It’s a worthwhile gamble in the fourth round.
Christian Kyrou is the brother of Jordan Kyrou. Unlike his brother, Christian is a defenseman. On bloodlines alone, this is a solid pick. We’ll see if it translates later.
Wil Murphy is also interesting. Perhaps not this season, but Murphy could be someone who earns a spot down the line. He’s regarded as a smart player who makes good decisions with the puck. You can never have enough of those.
Expectations Are Higher
With the Lockhart pick, expectations now are higher for this team. After back-to-back seasons of 56 points, the time has come for this team to take the next step.
Brown recently told me that the measuring stick for this team would be where they are at the end of the 2019-20 season. Just making the playoffs is not good enough. They should be able to make an impact and win a round.
Anything short of this and it could be time to reevaluate the direction of the franchise.
On potential, it’s an exciting time to be an Otters’ fan. But it’s now up to the team to turn potential into results. The draft did nothing to slow the momentum down. The big question will be can this team handle the higher expectations?
Overall draft grade: B+. This becomes an A if Saganiuk does eventually report. It’s a gamble so we’ll see if it pays off.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.