Despite opening the 2016-17 OHL season with three losses in their first four games, the Mississauga Steelheads have quickly begun to turn their campaign around. The absences of NHL draft picks Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Austin Osmanski, and Jacob Moverare to start the season certainly hurt the club early, however, their returns, alongside the breakout play of a number of young players, once again have the Steelheads swimming in the right direction.
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While the play of McLeod, Bastian, and others have been as expected – nothing short of terrific – Mississauga has perhaps benefited the most from the breakout efforts of their young, draft-eligible skaters. In particular, the play of Owen Tippett and Nic Hague, two players projected to fall in the top-15 of the coming 2017 NHL Draft who are quickly living up to their lofty expectations.
Owen Tippett – a True Goal Scorer
The fourth overall selection by Mississauga in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Tippett finished up his rookie season in 2015-16 with 15 goals and 20 points in 48 games played. A high ankle sprain suffered in February put a damper on a promising campaign by Tippett, who wound up scoring 0.32 goals per game. Now healthy and, perhaps more importantly, draft eligible, Tippett is ripe with motivation and has stormed out of the gate for the Steelheads, scoring seven goals and 11 points in his first nine games of the year. In fact, of those goals, six came within a three-game stretch, as the speedy winger notched two goals in three consecutive games, pacing Mississauga offensively.
Gifted with an NHL-caliber shot, Tippett’s release and velocity allow him to straight-up beat opposing goaltenders, even in low percentage scenarios. Further to Tippett’s shot is his accuracy, which too is above average in the OHL. Alongside his excellent shot is Tippett’s size, which is perhaps one of the most undervalued aspects of his game. At 6’2″, 205 pounds, Tippett, despite his crouched skating style, is, in fact, an imposing force on the ice, making him difficult to knock off the puck and a force on the forecheck. Given his elite offensive skills and size, it is easy to see why Tippett is projected to be a high pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Heck, he may even be able to step into the NHL next season.
Nic Hague – a Complete Defenseman
While Tippett has helped to lead the Steelheads offensively, so too has Hague, albeit doing so from the blue-line. Hague is also in his second season in the OHL, having scored 14 goals and 24 points in his highly impressive rookie season with Mississauga. As a result, Hague was also selected to Team Canada’s roster for the World Junior Championship U-18 team, where he added two assists over seven games played. With the 2016-17 season underway, Hague has followed in Tippett’s footsteps and has been nothing short of excellent early on in the season. Hague’s first eight games saw him record eight points, five of which goals including a hat trick, four point game against the Guelph Storm.
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Carrying over an incredible amount of momentum from a highly successful 2015-16 campaign, Hague has also become a defense stalwart. His 6’6″, 215-pound frame is an intimidating sight for opposing forwards, and he utilizes his size well in shutting down developing offensive opportunities in his own zone. Yet, what sets Hague apart from fellow defenders of his size, other than his offensive talents, is his mobility and agility on the ice. A complete defender with size, speed, defensive capabilities, and offensive flair, Hague can seemingly do it all and is quickly developing into one of the best defenders in the OHL. Very likely a top-10 selection in the coming NHL Draft, Hague, given his size and ability to adapt, could, like Tippett, find himself in an NHL uniform come 2017-18.
Steelheads on the Right Track
In all, Mississauga appears on track to become one of the OHL’s strongest teams in 2016-17, as they were expected to be. Flush with incredible offensive talent up front in the form of NHL draft picks and eligible players, the Steelheads possess an immensely potent lineup and the potential to light up the scoreboard. Further, with so many drafted defenders of varying size and skill, Mississauga’s blue line is by no means porous, and remains a true challenge to navigate on a nightly basis. Having stepped up to begin the season, the likes of Tippett, Hague, and other young Steelheads will need to continue to produce if the team wishes to remain consistently successful as the season progresses. Despite a somewhat slow start, the Steelheads appear headed in the right direction, and it is one that could lead them on a long post-season run.