Every year at the NHL Entry Draft, teams select players in the hopes of having them join the organization, whether that is direct to the NHL team, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, or even as a prospect in the ECHL. Sometimes these players don’t develop the way management hopes, or they have run out of room to sign them. They often return to the NHL Entry Draft or are signed as 20-year-old undrafted free agents. Other times they just fizzle out.
There were 31 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) players selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Seven were first-round picks, and all have been signed to their respective entry-level contracts.
The players listed below have not yet been signed by the teams that selected them. They have until June 1, 2022, to decide the player’s future with the team.
Jaromir Pytlik – New Jersey Devils, 4th Round, 99th Overall
Jaromir Pytlik, who is from Dacice, Czechia, played just one season in the OHL, collecting 22 goals and 28 assists in 56 games with the Greyhounds in 2019-20. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the OHL not playing during the 2020-21 season, he was loaned back to his native Czechia to play in the Czechia2 league. He only played in four games for HC Stadion Litomerice and did not hit the score sheet.
This season, Pytlik has stayed overseas and bounced around between KalPa of Liiga, a loan to IPK of Mestis, and Rytiri Kladno of Czechia. Through 38 games between all three teams, he has five goals and two assists.
Likelihood to be signed: 0 percent
Antonio Stranges – Dallas Stars, 4th Round, 123rd Overall
Antonio Stranges, who hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is playing in his third season in the OHL, all with the London Knights. He is having his best season yet, scoring 12 goals and adding 28 assists through 32 games. A dislocated shoulder at the Stars’ NHL Rookie Tournament kept him off the ice for several weeks to start the OHL season (from ‘Antonio Stranges finally ready to get rolling – and keep Knights streak going,’ London Free Press, 10/21/21).
Stranges gained some professional experience in 2020-21 as a member of the Texas Stars, the AHL affiliate of the team that drafted him, the Dallas Stars. He had one assist in nine games.
Likelihood to be signed: 25 percent
Evan Vierling – New York Rangers, 5th Round, 127th Overall
Evan Vierling, who is from Aurora, Ontario, has not lived up to the expectations set upon him as the second overall pick at the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Four other OHL picks from that draft have already debuted in the NHL, including three players picked after him.
This season, his second with the Barrie Colts, Vierling has 10 goals and 17 assists in 31 games and has points in eight of his last 10 games. He has not played since Jan. 31, a game in which he was injured against the Soo Greyhounds. Last season, he did not play any games in any league due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Likelihood to be signed: 10 percent
Will Cranley – St. Louis Blues, 6th Round, 163rd Overall
As is the norm, goaltenders at the major junior level take a long time to develop. Will Cranley, who is from Peterborough, Ontario, has definitely defined that need for development and time.
Cranley made a grand entrance as a backup to Cedrick Andree in 2019-20, posting a stellar 18-2-0 record, a respectable 2.81 goals-against average (GAA) and a .894 save percentage (SV%). With the league shut down in 2020-21, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound goaltender played in just one game. That game was with the then-Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets.
This season, as the number one goalie, Cranley has struggled. Through 31 games, he is 11-17-1-1, with a 3.70 GAA and a .874 SV%. The 67’s are a team that is in the bottom half of the league standings.
Likelihood to be signed: 5 percent
Chad Yetman – Chicago Blackhawks, 6th Round, 172nd Overall
Chad Yetman was selected as an overage player at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He had completed three seasons with the Erie Otters, amassing 73 goals and 74 assists through 185 games.
Since getting drafted, Yetman has split his time between the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. With the IceHogs, he has three goals and seven assists through 28 games, and with the Fuel, he has seven goals and 14 assists in 31 games. He is a reliable forward in the lower professional leagues but will be looking at signing deals with teams in those leagues.
Likelihood to be signed: 5 percent
Rory Kerins – Calgary Flames, 6th Round, 174th Overall
Rory Kerins is making it hard on the decision-makers of the Calgary Flames. The 5-foot-11 forward is among the league leaders in points with 75 (26 goals, 49 assists) through 44 games. He’s definitely having a season to remember in Sault Ste. Marie.
The 19-year-old from Caledon, Ontario, has surpassed his 2019-20 point totals and is just four goals shy of his career-high mark. Last season, Kerins played in four games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat, though he failed to hit the scoresheet. He was also not a liability while on the ice.
Likelihood to be signed: 80 percent
Declan McDonnell – Tampa Bay Lightning, 7th Round, 217th Overall
As the final pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Declan McDonnell faced an uphill battle to get signed by the Lightning. It is rare to see, as just six of the previous 20 final selections have gone on to sign with an NHL club.
A very serviceable forward, McDonnell has gone from under a point-per-game earlier this season with the Kitchener Rangers to 1.5 points per game since getting dealt to the Barrie Colts. He now has 38 points in 37 games, but he also played 16 games last season with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse Crunch, and collected two assists in limited minutes.
Likelihood to be signed: 45 percent
Tough To Get Signed
Beyond the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, it is tough for players to get signed. With a few exceptions, most notably Kerins and McDonnell, the rest of the players listed above are unlikely to head to the team that drafted them. They will have opportunities to get signed elsewhere as 20-year-olds (or older) or, in some cases, re-selected in the draft. And that team will have another two seasons to get them signed to entry-level contracts.
Former co-founder of DUBNetwork.ca. More than 700 articles written about the Red Deer Rebels and the Western Hockey League.