In the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), teams under the spotlight tend to change more frequently than the fuel for your automobile. Typically, it’s for good reason. Organizations housing highly touted draft-eligible prospects such as Quinton Byfield are going to garner more attention that year. The same can be said about teams stacked with top NHL prospects. Still, the focus from outside the circle of die-hard OHL fans tends to only remain for a season or two. However, with the London Knights, it’s a different story altogether.
Expectations surrounding the Knights are always at a high level. Maybe it’s populous of the city, the pedigree of its head coach and president, or its ability to always have popular young players on the roster. Regardless, there is always special attention paid to the junior hockey club in London, Ontario.
This season, it is no different. London remains one of the top teams in the Western Conference and dresses well-known commodities, such as Ryan Merkley and Connor McMichael each game. The roster includes a few noteworthy draft-eligibles as well. One, in particular, Luke Evangelista finds himself rising up the rankings as more attention shifts to the draft.
Luke Evangelista’s Rise up the Rankings
Prior to the 2019-20 OHL regular season, the verdict surrounding Evangelista and his potential remained very much up in the air. Whether or not it will translate to professional hockey/point production is a very real measuring stick when evaluating a player in Major Junior. In his rookie season with London, Evangelista simply was not getting it done. Two points in 27 games is not going to attract a great deal of attention from most scouts, even if other intangibles are present.
Though it was missing in year one in the OHL, proof of Evangelista’s ability to score existed. In his year with the Oakville Rangers Minor Midget AAA team, Evangelista led the South Central Triple A Minor Midget in scoring with 39 goals and 51 assists in just 36 games. Still, lighting up the score sheet in Minor Midget will only get you so far. The key for Evangelista would be to demonstrate that skillset during his draft-eligible season with the Knights.
Luckily, the 17-year-old Oakville, Ontario native is doing just that. Right from the start, Evangelista’s elite-level passing was on display. His ability to distribute crisp, accurate passes led to finding London’s offensively gifted forwards with ease. It became apparent that assists would be the forward’s bread and butter, especially after he notched three in a late September matchup against the Erie Otters. However, with seven assists but no goals to his name about a month into the season, there was still more to be desired with Evangelista’s game.
If the kid wanted to garner serious attention from NHL scouts, he needed to start putting the puck in the net himself. Then, on Oct. 19 against the Kingston Frontenacs, Evangelista kicked down the door with his first three goals of the season. Since then, he’s been able to improve on that aspect of his game in a big way. Evangelista now sits 12th among draft-eligible players in the OHL with 17 goals. Additionally, he’s posted two more multi-goal games since his big hat trick against Kingston.
Evangelista’s increase in goal production is playing a major role in his ascension up the various draft rankings. However, he still remains first and foremost an excellent playmaker. Through 42 games, Evangelista is a point-per-game player with 25 of those points being assists. Of the OHL draft-eligibles, he ranks eighth in total points — a place very few people imagined him at the beginning of the year.
How Far Can Evangelista Climb?
Once projected as a mid- to late-round draft pick in 2020, Evangelista’s play this season has surprisingly placed him in the late first to the early second-round range. There is still a decent amount of time until the draft, so how far can he climb up the draft board?
There are two major factors that will play a role in Evangelista’s ascension. First, continued scoring. Everyone knows he can set up goals with the best of them. However, the more goals of his own he produces, the more prospective teams will trust his game and consider selecting him. Second, London needs to keep winning and succeed in the postseason. Of course, Evangelista’s draft stock should not rely completely on his team’s success. Still, being part of a winning team only makes him more valuable.
If Evangelista’s strong offensive production continues and London finishes the year strong, there’s no reason he cannot become a sure-fire first-round pick. Other uncontrollable factors will obviously play a role but either way, Evangelista is certainly an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on as the draft draws closer.