2021 NHL Draft: 5 OHL players to watch
The 2020-21 OHL season has some uncertainty around it.
However, if the season goes ahead as planned, the league will be the host to some of the most exciting prospects of the 2021 NHL Draft.
With FCHockey getting set for the season, our scouts agreed on five 2021 NHL Draft-eligible players from the OHL that you’ll need to see this season. From a player that might just be the first-overall pick to a stud goaltender, plus a trio of dynamic forwards, the league will once again see a number of its players getting first-round attention this season.
Here are FCHockey’s five OHL prospects to watch this season:
Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts
If this list was just one player to watch this season, it would be Brandt Clarke. The defender is entering his second season in the OHL, after capping off an exciting rookie season that saw him collect six goals, 32 assists, and 38 points in 57 games. His assists were the most of any rookie and his season earned him OHL First All-Rookie Team honours.
Entering the league last season, big things were expected of Clarke after coming off a 113-point season (35 goals, 78 assists) with the Don Mills Flyers of the GTHL. He helped the team to a GTHL U16 championship title, going on to win the OHL Cup with another 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in eight games.
In that 2018-19 season, the right-shot defender also dressed for Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games, sporting an “A” on his jersey. On top of adding another two goals, six assists, and eight points, he helped lead the team to a silver medal. That performance helped pave his way to the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he played for Team Canada Black, collecting a goal and five assists in the five games played.
“What’s most impressive about him was the maturity he showed in the neutral zone,” said head Eastern Canada Scout, Dylan Galloway. “He’s responsible enough to know that he needs to not pinch too deep, when he needs to back off to provide support and coverage and he can back it up with the skill to hold his ground in the neutral zone and break up plays. His stickwork in this aspect is exceptional and he’s able to expertly poke check his opponents and generate turnovers, regaining possession.”
While the race for the first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft is wide open, Clarke is very much in that mix.
Ben Gaudreau, G, Sarnia Sting
It’s not often we see a goaltender drafted in the first round. It’s even less often that we see more than one. In the 2021 NHL Draft, Ben Gaudreau may force his way into the first round. The Sarnia Sting netminder played in 28 games as a rookie, collecting a 10-13-2 record to go along with a 4.34 goals against average (GAA) and a .890 save percentage (SV%).
In 2018-19, the six-foot-two, 165-pound goaltender played for the North Bay Trappers in the GNML. He helped lead his team to a league championship, sporting a 1.13 GAA (the best in the league) in the process. He also dressed for Team Ontario in the Canada Winter Games with Clarke, winning the silver medal with a 3.48 GAA and a .911 SV%.
“Gaudreau seems to have good fundamentals and is able to hold the top of his crease well, even with traffic crowding the slot,” said Galloway. “The other thing I like about Gaudreau’s game is his quick lateral movements. He reads the play really well for such a young goalie and uses that ability to anticipate puck movement and get into position and squared up before the shot is even taken.”
Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt looks to have the top netminder rank locked heading into the 2020-21 campaign, but Gaudreau is making a strong case for No. 2 on that list.
Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes
Moving to the forwards, Mason McTavish could very well be leading the charge for OHL players up front. At six-foot-one, 196 pounds, the centreman already has excellent size and if his rookie season is any indication of what’s to come, we could be in store for something special. He played 57 games with the Peterborough Petes, collecting 29 goals, 13 assists, and 42 points. It’s safe to say he likes to score.
McTavish also dressed for Team Canada White in 2019-20, acting as the alternate captain and scoring two goals with one assist in six games. The year prior, he joined Clarke and Gaudreau on Team Ontario in the silver medalist performance. The centreman had two goals, two assists, and four points in six games.
The 2018-19 season also saw him tear up the HEO U18 league, where he amassed a league-leading 47 goals and 32 assists, to capture the scoring title with 79 points in 41 games. After adding another 15 points in eight playoff games, McTavish helped the team to the league championship and earned Most Valuable Player in the league, HEO Player of the Year, and the U18 Top Prospect Award.
“McTavish shows an ability to be highly effective in the offensive with the puck on his stick,” said Galloway. “He possesses quick edges, solid puck skills and an ability to utilize those in combination to find open ice for himself. He skates hard and is putting in the effort to support his teammates to advance the puck. He’s a competitive player who needs some refinement to his overall game.”
The race to be the top forward from the OHL in this class looks like a close one at this point. McTavish will be looking to separate himself from the pack when the league drops the puck.
Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint Firebirds
The second forward highlighted by FCHockey scouts is Brennan Othmann. The Flint Firebirds left winger came into the OHL last season with large expectations after leading the GTHL in scoring in 2018-19. Playing with Clarke on the Don Mills Flyers U16 AAA team, Othmann racked up a whopping 66 goals, 80 assists, and 146 points in 72 games.
He extended this into the OHL Cup, scoring eight goals, six assists, and 14 points in seven games en route to the championship and being named to the All-Star Team. He also played with Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games with 10 goals, six assists, and 16 points in six games.
Entering the OHL, Othmann played 55 games and scored 17 goals, 16 assists, and 33 points. He was added to the OHL First All-Rookie Team for his efforts. Finally, he also played with Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, adding three goals, three assists, and six points in five games to his resume.
“Othmann boasts an absolute laser beam of a shot,” started Galloway. “His ability to find space utilizing some solid agility and smarts is going to make him a very dangerous goalscorer throughout his career. He does break the zone a touch early and is often thinking strictly offensively, but with his ability to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to blame him.”
Othmann took some time to get used to the OHL but entering his sophomore season he should be ready to drive his draft stock up.
Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers
Last, but certainly not least, Francesco Pinelli made his mark in his rookie season with the Kitchener Rangers. The centreman came into the lineup and put up 18 goals, 23 assists, and 41 points in his 59 games played. He also dressed for Team Canada Red in the World Under-17-Hockey challenge, scoring one goal in five games.
In 2018-19, the six-foot, 176-pound forward was playing against Clarke and Othmann for the Toronto Red Wings U16 AAA team. He was the captain of the club and finished second in the GTHL in scoring with 49 goals, 65 assists, and 114 points in 59 games. In the OHL Cup, he added another 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in seven games.
Finally, Pinelli, like the others on this list, played for Team Ontario in the Canada Winter Games, scoring twice and adding an assist in the six games played.
“Pinelli’s footwork is light and smooth,” said Crossover Scout, Brandon Holmes. “He’s able to use crossovers and quick cuts while the puck is on his stick to survey and open up passing lanes with the puck on his stick. Pinelli is a patient attacker who often preferred to slow the game down while attacking on the rush and waiting for plays to develop, showing an excellent read-and-react offensive brain with or without the puck on his stick.”
Pinelli should be looked on to take a bigger role with the Rangers in 2020-21, and that should only see him rise up draft boards.