With the Ontario Hockey League season coming to a close over the next couple of weeks, this season has seen the emergence of some top young talent. Since 2013, over a hundred OHL players have heard their name called at the NHL Entry Draft.
Every year it seems as though the quality of hockey in the OHL gets better and better. With former prospects like Connor McDavid, Max Domi, Aaron Ekblad and many others beginning their respective careers in the OHL, there is now an elite group of young players who are on the verge of making it to the “show.” I would like to highlight a few OHL prospects that could be playing in the NHL next season. Here’s 10.
10. Josh Ho-Sang, Niagara IceDogs (Forward)
Drafted: New York Islanders, 1st round, 28th overall in 2014
Why? Josh Ho-Sang is as controversial as a hockey player can be. That being said, Ho-Sang is an incredible talent and might be the hidden gem of the 2014 first round. The Islanders took Ho-Sang with the 28th pick that year, and he’s been nothing but lights-out in the OHL ever since.
Although he does struggle with some off-ice attitude problems, Ho-Sang could potentially crack the Islanders lineup as soon as next season. Ho-Sang took part in the Islanders camp in 2015, but was sent home after he allegedly forgot to set an alarm. That said, the Isles could potentially lose forwards: Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo to free agency this season, and if they do that leaves major holes in New York’s top-12 and a player like Ho-Sang could potentially step into that hole.
9. Brendan Perlini, Niagara IceDogs, (Left wing)
Drafted: Arizona Coyotes, 1st round, 12th overall in 2014
Why? If you don’t follow the OHL, or you’re not a Arizona Coyotes fan, you may not have heard of Brendan Perlini since the 2014 draft but he’s an exceptional talent. The Coyotes organization runs deep with prospect depth, and Perlini might not be “NHL ready” just yet because of the performance of his peers. Perlini’s production dropped significantly this season after two straight seasons averaging more than a point-per-game. Perlini has dealt with injuries in the past, but his combination of speed and skill could translate into a role in the NHL. Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett did say he liked the way Perlini played in last year’s rookie camp, but noted that he wasn’t ready for the pros just yet.
Have a look at his highlights here.
8. Kevin Labanc, Barrie Colts (Right wing)
Drafted: San Jose Sharks, 6th round, 171st overall in 2014
Why? Well he did lead the OHL in scoring this year with 127 points, and the Sharks said they have liked what they see from the 20-year-old right-winger. His back-to-back seasons north of 100 points will very much have him considered for a spot in the pros next season. Whether it be with the Sharks or with the San Jose Barracuda in the American Hockey League. In recent memory, the Sharks have never had great prospect-depth – but they may have just got lucky with Labanc.
7. Travis Konecny, Sarnia Sting (Centre)
Drafted: Philadelphia Flyers, 1st round, 24th overall in 2015
Why? Konecny was selected late in the first round by the Flyers last season, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s not a big player, but he’s a strong player and doesn’t shy away from down-low play or standing in front of the next. The reason why Konecny is on this list is based on his performance this season, and Philadelphia’s lack of scoring depth. Dave Hakstol’s group somehow snuck into the playoffs this year, and the 19-year-old would be a great addition to an already young Flyers squad. His play is very much reminiscent of Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher – and like Gallagher, Konecny would probably benefit from a season or two in the American Hockey League before jumping straight into an NHL lineup. If the Flyers deal with injuries, it wouldn’t be surprising if the former Ottawa 67s captain gets a look.
6. Michael Dal Colle, Kingston Frontenacs (Left wing)
Drafted: New York Islanders, 1st round, 5th overall in 2014
Why? Dal Colle didn’t start the 2015-16 off very well, but once the Oshawa Generals shipped their captain to the Kingston Frontenac, Dal Colle’s game instantly turned around. In the first 30 games of the season he put up 25 points with the Generals – then he joined the Fronts and put up a spectacular 55 points in the second half of the season. Although many question the consistency of the former 5th overall pick, Dal Colle could find himself in an Islanders jersey sooner than he expected. The Isles have a lot of work to do this summer, with three key players set to become UFAs, like I mentioned earlier. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if second-year forward Ryan Strome demanded a trade, as he’s already voiced his unpleasant opinion about his usage on the team. If something like this were to happen, the Isles would have to consider a number of their young prospects, with Dal Colle being at the top of their prospect pool.
5. Lawson Crouse, Kingston Frontenacs (Left wing)
Drafted: Florida Panthers, 1st round, 11th overall in 2015
Why? In a lot of people’s eyes, Crouse could end up being the steal of the 2015 draft. He’s the type of player every team wants. A big, strong forward that possesses offensive ability and tremendous leadership characteristics. Does this sound familiar? Well once upon a time the Boston Bruins drafted a player that plays a very similar game to Crouse – and that’s Milan Lucic.
Lucic, now with the Los Angeles Kings, won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins back in 2010 and has proved himself to be a very useful player in this league. Back to Crouse. Crouse could very-well sneak onto the Panthers out of training camp – or at the very least get a 12-game tryout with them in the beginning of the season. At 6’4″, 212 pounds, he is likely the only player on this list who is physically ready for the NHL. He would be a nice addition to the already huge top-six Florida already has too.
4. Pavel Zacha, Sarnia Sting (Left wing/Centre)
Drafted: New Jersey Devils, 1st round, 6th overall in 2015
Why? The Devils liked what they saw from Zacha at the end of training camp last season, but his one assist in four preseason games wasn’t enough production for management to keep him. Zacha was then sent back down to the OHL, where he played in his second season with the Sarnia Sting and once again put up above-average numbers (64 points in 51 games).
At 6’3″, 213, Zacha has a big frame that the Devils could certainly use next season. Travis Zajac isn’t getting any younger, and his production over the last two seasons has been less than spectacular. Zacha may be the best available player to fill the 32-year-old’s place in the middle on the team’s top line. New Jersey hasn’t been known to draft very well, at least in recent history anyway – but Zacha is a serious prospect and could be an effective NHLer next season.
3. Christian Dvorak, London Knights (Right wing)
Drafted: Arizona Coyotes, 2nd round, 58th overall in 2014
Why? He finished second in OHL scoring to Labanc this year, and it was his second straight season with over a hundred points. The London Knights co-captain has a pro’s shot, and is part of one of the NHL’s deepest prospect pools in Arizona. Although Dvorak could spend next season in the AHL, the Coyotes haven’t been shy to let their young players develop with the big club instead of in the minors. You may ask why Dvorak is so high on this list – but his proven consistency and leadership qualities could find the 19-year-old playing with the Yotes next season.
2.Dylan Strome, Erie Otters (Centre)
Drafted: Arizona Coyotes, 1st round, 3rd overall in 2015
Why? The Coyotes drafted Strome with full intentions of him becoming their No. 1 centre some time in the near future. Strome’s size is his biggest advantage, tied with his tremendous skill and Arizona’s lack of depth up the middle, the 18-year-old could find himself playing in the desert come October. At the end of the season, the Yotes were using Antoine Vermette to centre their first line, and no disrespect to Vermette, but a younger, bigger, more skilled Strome was drafted to fill that role.
1.Mitch Marner, London Knights (Centre)
Drafted: Toronto Maple Leafs, 1st round, 4th overall in 2015
Why? A marvelous season, topped off by an incredible playoff and MVP honors, has Toronto’s Mitch Marner ahead of all other OHL prospects. The 18-year-old was drafted fourth overall last year, and hasn’t taken a step back since. His 116 regular season points, and 44 postseason points bested any other player in the league by miles. Marner is the most-likely prospect to see NHL action next season, because of how ready he looks.
Although he’s still not overwhelmingly big, Marner’s game is quite reminiscent to that of Patrick Kane. Who also broke into to league as an undersized, extremely talented forward. Marner has a ways to go to be talked about in the same conversation as Kane, but the Leafs love him, and he could quickly make an impact on their roster. Could you imagine a team with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Marner rounding out the top-six for the foreseeable future? The three of them alone have truly fantastic potential – but together, they could be part of something special in Toronto.