While the Ontario Hockey League has yet to announce a concrete start date for the 2020-21 season, there is still plenty of excitement that is swirling around the upcoming rookie class.
Filled with puck moving defenseman and skillful forwards, the 2020 OHL Priority Selection saw some serious talent get dispersed around the league. While all of the teams will see some sort of impact from their first-year players, here are the five that I think could be dynamic from the get-go.
The first overall pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection by the North Bay Battalion, defenseman Ty Nelson, has the chance to be a very good player. Having spent this past season playing for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens U16 AAA of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), he scored 11 goals and added 21 assists for 32 points in 33 games.
Standing at 5-foot-8 and weighing 172 pounds, Nelson may be a bit on the small side but his impact can certainly be felt whenever he steps out on the ice. What really impresses me about his game is his ability to make heads-up plays with the puck on his stick. He is able to find his forwards breaking through the neutral zone and will send them a long breakout pass, hitting them in stride.
Nelson is not afraid to jump into the rush and uses his skating ability to open up spaces for his teammates. When the play transitions the other way, he is more than capable of getting back to defend and his two-way versatility makes him a threat on the backend.
With a young and skillful group in North Bay, the Battalion have the chance to take a major step forward this upcoming season. With the additions of Nelson, Matvei Guskov and Matvei Petrov, it will be exciting to see what they can accomplish when they get back on the ice.
Selected with the third overall pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection by the Sarnia Sting, center Max Namestnikov is another player who could make some noise this upcoming season. Having played for Honeybaked 15U AAA team of the High Performance Hockey League (HPHL) this past season, he collected 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 13 games.
While Namestnikov stands at a meagre 5-foot-6 and weighs only 150 pounds, his skill is off the charts. With the puck on his stick, he manages to create time and space for his teammates in the offensive zone and can find them in the slot for a scoring chance. He has a quick, accurate release and can choose where he wants put it with ease. Namestnikov is also great down near the goal-line. Where some players his size might shy away from going to the net, he drives head-on and is often rewarded with an easy goal.
Namestnikov will be able to play a big role for the Sting from the get-go. He makes the players around him better and getting to play with guys like Jacob Perrault and Jamieson Rees will help him grow his own game. While the Sting struggled last season, finishing last in the Western Conference, adding a player like Namestnikov can only help their cause.
Selected second overall in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection by the Niagara IceDogs, forward Pano Fimis is going to be exciting to watch. Having spent this past season laying for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens U16 AAA of the GTHL, he accumulated 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points in 32 games.
What impresses me the most about Fimis is his consistency on the ice. If his team was down a goal, they could rely on him to put the puck in the back of the net or come up with a great defensive play. He is great at reading the play unfolding in front of him and reacts accordingly. Named as the captain of the Jr. Canadiens this past season, Fimis is a great leader on and off the ice and I would not be surprised to see him in a leadership role with the IceDogs in a few seasons.
Fimis is also a great skater. He can use his quick edges to drive around the defender and uses his momentum to drive the net. The IceDogs are another team who struggled mightily this past season, finishing second last in the league but with players like Fimis and and Alec Leonard arriving, IceDogs fans should be optimistic for the future.
Drafted fifth overall by the Kingston Frontenacs in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, forward Paul Ludwinski was one of my favourite players throughout the season. Having played for the Toronto Marlboros U16 AAA of the GTHL, he scored 15 goals and added 17 assists for 32 points in 31 games.
What impresses me the most about Ludwinski’s game is the fact that he is a great playmaker. With the puck on his stick, he is able to create plays and open up passing lanes for his teammates. If the chance doesn’t present itself, he is not afraid to shoot either and has a hard, accurate shot. Ludwinski is also a great leader on and off the ice. Having been named captain of the Marlboros, he is an active voice on and off the ice and he leads by example.
With a young, up and coming team in Kingston, Ludwinski will get the chance to show Paul McFarland and his coaching staff what he is all about. Being able to play with a rising superstar in Shane Wright and skilled players such as Zayde Wisdom and Martin Chromiak, Ludwinski will have no shortages of great linemates. The Frontenacs will be a team to watch this season.
Drafted in the first round, 20th overall by the Ottawa 67’s in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, forward Nicholas Moldenhauer had himself a great season. In 33 games with the Toronto Titans U16 AAA of the GTHL, he accumulated 23 goals and added 16 assists for 39 points.
Moldenhauer plays a great two-way game. When the puck is on his stick, he is able to use his skating ability to create space through the neutral zone and drive the net with speed. When the puck transitions the other way, he is able to get back and help defend. He plays with an active stick and rarely gets called for a bad penalty.
With great talents on the 67’s such as Marco Rossi and Jack Quinn, Moldenhauer will have the chance to learn and potentially play with some elite players. While it is unknown whether or not Rossi will return to the OHL next season, nothing has been mentioned at this point. All in all, Moldenhauer is going to a great team in the 67’s and if the season does start up, they will have a good chance to make the playoffs.
For this year’s class of rookies, the spotlight will be on them all season long. With a prolonged break, many people will want to see how they adjust to the rigours of the OHL after not having played for so long. It will be interesting to see how they fare up against top competition and I am really excited to have a seat to the spectacle.