Throughout the years, the game of hockey has seen a shift in the way players play the game. We continually see the emphasis of a game focused around speed and skill. With this shift, defencemen have started having more of an offensive impact from the blue line.
This impact can certainly be felt around the Ontario Hockey League, as defencemen continue to leave their marks on the game and on the scoresheet. While there are a ton of defencemen making their impacts felt on a nightly basis, here are the top five best offensive defencemen in the OHL:
As seen in my previous article, Noel Hoefenmayer has all the tools to become an NHL defenceman. He has elite hands that allow him to create time and space. He thrived in his role running the power play this year and is also capable of playing a full 200-foot game.
Related: 5 Takeaways From the 2020 OHL Draft
With the Ottawa 67’s this season, Hoefenmayer scored 26 goals and added 56 assists for 82 points in 58 games played. In a recent poll, coaches around the OHL named Hoefenmayer as the top offensive defenceman in the Eastern Conference. The Toronto Marlies just signed him to a two-year contract, so it will be exciting to see his progress as he could develop into a quality defenceman down the road.
Ryan Merkley has shown why the San Jose Sharks made a good decision to draft him with the 30th overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft. The smooth-skating defender uses his elite vision to set up his teammates in the offensive zone, and, like Hoefenmayer, Merkley played a big role in his team’s success and thrived on the power play.
Playing for the London Knights this past season, Merkley scored 15 goals and added 61 assists for 76 points in 60 games played. Coaches named him the top offensive defenceman in the Western Conference this past season and it is easy to see why. He projects to be a dynamic defenceman at the next level.
Related: What Ever Happened to Rob Schremp?
At the 2018 NHL draft, many teams passed on Merkley due to the fact that people said he was too much to handle off the ice. He seems to have gotten past those issues and seems to be turning a corner on and off the ice. He projects to be a major part of the future for the Sharks.
Declan Chisholm emerged as a diamond in the rough this past season with the Peterborough Petes. He displayed his great vision with solid two-way play and emerged as a go-to guy for the Petes. Although the team had stars like Nick Robertson, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, and Akil Thomas, Chisholm’s impact did not go unnoticed.
This past season, Chisholm scored 13 goals and added 56 assists for 69 points in 59 games played. Drafted in the fifth round at No. 150 overall in the 2018 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Chisholm is going to be a big part of the Jets’ future. With major players leaving in the offseason, the Jets’ defence has struggled this past season.
Although Chisholm projects as a bottom-four player for the Jets, he will still provide value in the future. Anyone who can put up a point-per-game pace as a defenceman in the OHL has the chance to be something special at the next level.
Brady Lyle seemingly came out of nowhere this season with the Owen Sound Attack. In 62 games played this season, he scored 22 goals and added 43 assists for 65 points. Before this past season, his highest point total was 41 points in 68 games.
Being the only one on this list to never have been drafted into the NHL, Lyle had something to prove heading into this season. He did just that as he broke the Attack’s all-time record for goals by a defenceman. When asked about the accomplishment, Lyle told BayToday reporter Matt Sookram: “To be honest I wasn’t aware of what the record was or that I was close to it. It just happened and when I found out about it I was pretty proud.” (from ‘Brady Lyle breaking records in final year’, BayToday – 3/20/20)
With his offensive outbreak, he proved that he could hang amongst the best in the OHL. He should have no problem getting signed to an entry-level deal this summer. Although Lyle projects as a bottom-four defender like Chisholm, he can still provide value to any NHL organization willing to take a chance on him. With Lyle being an overage player in the OHL, there is nowhere for him to play other than overseas if he does not get signed. All in all, a lot of teams could do worse than taking a chance on a defender like Lyle.
Alec Regula has developed into a very solid defender for the London Knights. He uses his elite IQ and quick stick to make smart plays that continually advances the play for his team. He is a team-first type of player who serves as a leader for all of the younger players.
This past season with the Knights, Regula scored 27 goals and added 33 assists for 60 points in 56 games played. Having originally been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round, 67th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, Regula was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Brendan Perlini.
With Regula eligible to return for one more year, the Knights will welcome him back with open arms. The Blackhawks should have no problem letting him continue to develop so he can be ready to jump to the pros come this time next year. If he continues to develop and hone his skills, Blackhawks fans should get used to seeing his name in the lineup for years to come.
All of these players have the opportunity to do something special with their careers at the next level. If they continue to develop and hone their crafts, they will have an impact at the NHL level. The ball is in their court and now it’s up to them to see if they run with it or not.
My name is Mathieu Sheridan. I am a writer here at THW who covers the OHL and prospects in general.