September 20, 2021

2022 NHL Draft: OHL players to watch

This year’s crop of Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft has long been spoken about as a very deep group.

Led by the phenom Shane Wright, the fifth player in OHL history to receive exceptional status, the group also contains a handful of potential first-round candidates.

In terms of talent, it ranks somewhere between last year’s draft — which saw Mason McTavish picked third and Brandt Clarke eighth, but featured no other standout player — and the 2020 draft, where Quinton Byfield, Jamie Drysdale, Jack Quinn, Marco Rossi and Cole Perfetti were all gone in the first 10 picks.

The cancellation of the 2020-21 season meant this group missed out on a very important year in their development. So much can change when players make the jump from minor hockey to the OHL given the increase in pace in physicality. Some players that put up ridiculous numbers in midget just aren’t able to translate their game to the next level.

However, if this crop reach the heights they are projected to this season, you will definitely want to keep an eye on them.

Here are five OHL prospects to watch this season (in alphabetical order):

Pano Fimis, C, Niagara IceDogs

Pano Fimis absolutely dominated Minor Midget alongside Nelson on the Jr. Canadiens, scoring 146 points in just 91 games.

That year, he was also named to Team Canada for the YOG and was awarded GTHL Player of the Year.

“He is a two-way centre who, despite having a small frame at 5-foot-11, 157 pounds, doesn’t shy away from traffic and excels at making plays through checks,” FCHockey scout Joseph Aleong said. “While he isn’t as explosive in his skating as McConnell-Barker or Shane Wright, Fimis has great stickhandling ability that rivals any in the class other than Wright’s. While he makes a lot of plays near the net and in traffic, he still has to prove his play style will translate effectively to the OHL level.”

Bryce McConnell-Barker, C, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds

Bryce McConnell-Barker was by far the best player on the 2004 London Jr. Knights, leading the team in scoring by 0.48 points-per-game. 

The 2020 ALLIANCE Player of the Year is a versatile center capable of playing in a variety of roles.

“McConnell-Barker is tough to project due to how much development time he’s missed, but he has an energetic and aggressive play style that is hard to miss,” Aleong said. “His great speed and hard release give him a good chance to produce big numbers this season, but it’s his play away from the puck and his ability to adjust to OHL pace that will determine if he can be one of the first OHLers drafted next summer.”

Max Namestnikov, C, Sarnia Sting

Max Namestnikov, the younger brother of Detroit Red Wings forward Vladislav Namestnikov, was born in Russia like his brother but grew up playing hockey in Michigan. In his Minor Midget season, he joined an absolutely stacked Detroit Honeybaked team that featured the likes of Cole Spicer and Frank Nazar. As expected, they won the HPHL championship and were the favourites to win nationals had they not been cancelled.

With 128 points (53 goals, 75 assists) in 59 games, Namestnikov finished fourth in all of American Minor Midget scoring behind Spicer, Rutger McGroarty and Sudbury Wolves draft pick David Goyette.

“He is a player who likes to make quick snap passes through opponents and set his teammates up net-front,” FCHockey scout Olivia McArter said. “He has quick feet when challenging his opponent, moving his feet with every stick movement to make sure he stays with his man and shows his quick edges while following in the corner.”

Ty Nelson, D, North Bay Battalion

Ty Nelson, the 2020 OHL Priority Selection’s first-overall pick has the makings of a modern defenseman: he is slightly undersized at 5-foot-8 but possesses strong skating ability and an offensive flair.

Nelson was a star on the powerhouse Toronto Jr. Canadiens in 2019-20, scoring at over a point-per-game pace. He was also on the Canadian team that won bronze at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. He will lead a promising young Battalion team alongside fellow draft-eligible Liam Arnsby and Montreal pick Joe Vrbetic.

Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs

Welcome to the Wright era.

After kicking his junior hockey career with a bang, scoring 39 goals in 58 games in his first season in Kingston, Canada’s next big star will have the whole hockey world watching him as he enters his draft year.  

The debate over which of Wright, Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov is the biggest talent will rage on, but the Frontenac is comfortably the best player in this class. His total of 1.14 points-per-game as an exceptional status player in the OHL is bested only by John Tavares — who arguably played on a better team. 

“He’s a potentially franchise-changing player,” FCHockey scout Mat Sheridan said. “He possesses an elite shot — he is able to get it off his stick rapidly and can shoot off both feet and in stride. He has excellent situational awareness at both ends of the ice: he constantly disrupts passing lanes with his stick and always makes himself open in the offensive zone.”

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