There are a lot of excellent players in the Ontario Hockey League. And there are a lot of excellent players who don’t get noticed enough. Everyone knows the Dylan Strome’s, the Cliff Pu’s, the Jeremy Bracco’s, and so on. But what about the other guys; the ones who aren’t as easily recognized? Whether they’re playing on a weak team, are being overshadowed by other players, or simply don’t get the credit they deserve, this is my list of the most underrated players in the OHL.
Jason Robertson, Kingston Frontenacs
Jason Robertson is having an excellent year in his second campaign in the Ontario Hockey League. The 17-year-old leads the Frontenacs in goals and points, and Kingston has scored significantly less goals than any other team (116). Robertson is a prospect eligible for the 2017 draft, and will almost certainly go in the first round. He’s the best player on a mediocre team, and probably has a few more years before he cracks an NHL roster. I’m a little surprised he wasn’t traded to a contender at the deadline, but he’ll be a force for Kingston in the coming years. He’s not very well known today, but in a few years, that’ll change.
Domenic Commisso, Oshawa Generals
The Oshawa Generals are first place in the Eastern Conference, and Domenic Commisso has been a huge part of their success. The centerman had five points in five playoff games in his first year, to go with 42 points in 66 contests. This year, he already has that many in just 44 games. He gets better and better and will be a crucial part of the Generals’ success in the post-season. At 5’11, he’s on the smaller side, but has great smarts with the puck, to go with excellent vision. Without Anthony Cirelli, he’ll be relied on to play on the first line, and match up against some of the league’s best talent. The way he’s playing this year, it won’t be a problem. He doesn’t have a great supporting cast, and his play in the playoffs could be a massive factor in the Generals’ success.
Cordell James, Owen Sound Attack
Cordell James was traded at the deadline from the league’s worst team in the Barrie Colts, to the hottest in the Attack. Owen Sound is filled with prospects, and the overager will bring stability to a very young team. The former Colts captain has three years of playoff experience, including a run to the Eastern Conference semi-finals last year. His 25 points in 36 games for Barrie this year was solid; he’s big, strong, knows how to score, and has a ton of experience in the post-season. That’s something a lot of players on this team lack. He’s already fit in well in the black and red, scoring eight points in his first four contests. If this team manages to make a playoff run in the stacked Western Conference, he’ll be a big part of it.
Kyle Maksimovich, Erie Otters
When you think of the Erie Otters, you probably think of Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh, or Alex Debrincat. These are the superstars of the Otters roster, and even they were overshadowed back when Connor McDavid was still around. Today, Kyle Maksimovich is the one flying under the radar. The 18-year-old has been playing on the Otters since the start of the 2014-15 season, and quietly adding scoring to an already potent offence. He had eight points in 13 playoff games last year, and 71 in 68 regular season games. This year, he’s continuing the success, with 48 in 45. He’s an excellent playmaker with great hands and good speed, and is excellent on the second unit power play. On almost any other team but Erie he’d be a top minutes player. On a team that boasts offensive depth every year, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Givani Smith, Guelph Storm
Givani Smith plays on a team that sits in second last place in the Ontario Hockey League standings, but his play far from shows that. The Detroit second rounder gets to the dirty areas, isn’t afraid to mix it up, and is a powerhouse in front of the net. His aggressive game speaks for itself; he leads the OHL in penalty minutes with 95. He’s almost a point per game player, and he’s scored 20 goals on a team that only has 141 on the year. He should be up with Detroit next year, and will fill a role they’ve lacked since the days of Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. He’s big, he’s tough, and he can score. Right now, he’s flying under the radar on a very bad team, but in a few years, he’ll be a household name for hockey fans.
Ryan Mantha, Niagara IceDogs
Ryan Mantha has quietly been one of the most steady defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League over the past three seasons. The New York Ranger fourth rounder leads the IceDogs in scoring; his 43 points in 45 games makes him third best of all OHL d-men. He was part of the Niagara team that made a run to the OHL Championship last year, where they were eventually swept by the London Knights. If the IceDogs manage to squeak into a playoff spot this time around, he’ll be the difference on the back end. The overager is a great puck handler, makes a strong first pass, and isn’t afraid to jump into the rush. He had ten points in 17 playoff games last year, and given the chance again, he could improve on that. My hopes aren’t high for the IceDogs if they make the playoffs, but with Mantha playing big minutes, he could be a huge factor.
Brandon Crawley, London Knights
It’s easy to forget about the great season Brandon Crawley has had, especially when he’s playing on a defensive core that boasts Victor Mete (MTL), Olli Juolevi (VAN) and now Mitch Vande Sompel (NYI). But he’s quietly been one of the steadiest players for the London Knights this year. He’s a big body that’s hard to play against, makes a great first pass, and can jump in the offence as well. He’s second in the league in plus-minus (+42); he rarely makes any mistakes in the defensive zone. His 24 points in 37 games aren’t too shabby either. The London Knights have a lot of great defensemen, but at both ends of the ice, he’s probably the most responsible. He rounds out a defensive core that makes a legitimate argument for the best in the OHL.
Matthew Timms, Peterborough Petes
Matthew Timms is the top scoring player on a pretty solid Peterborough Petes team. In a weak Eastern Conference, they could definitely make a deep playoff run. Timms is a huge part of their success; his 43 points in 44 games put him tied for third (with Mantha) in defensemen scoring, and he’s only 18. He got great experience in the playoffs last year when the Petes lost a 7-game thriller to the North Bay Battalion in the first round. Timms has been logging big minutes throughout the regular season, and the same will be expected from him in the playoffs. The Petes have a good core of forwards, and D who can score in Kyle Jenkins and Matthew Spencer. But they’ll be relying on the 5’10 defenseman to play against the league’s top talent in the post-season. If he can handle the pressure, he should get a lot more credit moving forward.