Here is a look at a few OHLers who will be eligible for the 2001 draft,
and who should end up being ranked fairly high. Quite frankly this years draft does little
to excite me, but if the WHL, QMJHL, NCAA, and European leagues have players as talented as the OHL for 2001 it will be one heck of a draft.
Jason Spezza-Plays centre for the Mississauga IceDogs and has posted 40 points in 30 games this year. He has just made the National Junior team at the age of 16 (along with Jay Bouwmeester), the only other 16 year olds in Canadian history to do this were Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros. He is not just along for the ride. I expect him to be a key component on the team, and to average a point a game, if not lead the team in scoring.
At the last exhibition game in Kitchener vs the OUAA allstars, the only forwards who could have said that maybe they played better than Spezza were, Mike Riberio and Manny Malhotra, both of whom are on loan from the NHL. Spezza had 2 points and could have had 5 with a bit of luck.
I believe that he is the most talented player that Canada has produced since Paul Kariya. He is a lock to go first overall, barring serious injury.
Derek Roy-Plays centre for the Kitchener Rangers and has posted 43 points in 32 games this year. He is, in my opinion, the second most talented 16 year old in the OHL. He is much smaller than Spezza, standing at 5’9”, and weighing in at 170 pounds. He does not play small, and with speed, is hard to hit. I have seen him play a lot this year, live and on tv, and have only seen him play one bad game. That was against Windsor, when the Spits managed to hit him a lot, but he was still probably the Rangers best player in a 8-0 thrashing.
I expect him to be a key player on Team Ontario in the under 17 tournament this Christmas. A good showing there and I don’t think that it will be out of the question for him to have a shot at the national team next year, and I would be very surprised if he wasn’t invited as an 18 year old.
With his speed and skill, he should be a force in the OHL for the next few years and will keep the “LETS GO RANGERS” song blaring out in the Aud on Friday nights.
Brandon Bell– A 6’1” 180 pound defenceman playing for the Ottawa 67s. He was their first pick last year, after playing Junior A in Ottawa, where he notched 27 points in 54 games. This year he has 17 points in 29 games so far. He plays a solid, all around game, with no noticeable weaknesses.
He should be another key player on the Team Ontario squad.
A big plus for him is playing for Brian Kilrea, who has developed many good OHLers in his career, many of them going onto professional hockey. The last few years has been almost a factory of defencemen, from Blanchard to Campbell to Boytnon, and last year 3 67s were drafted in the entry draft. He will benefit from playing with a good veteran team, where there won’t be as much pressure placed on him, and where he can develop slowly.
Mark Popovic-He is a 6’2” 185 pound defenceman playing for the St. Michael’s Majors. This is his second season, last year he had 32 points in 60 games, while this year he has 19 points in 33 games. Due to his late birthday, he will have played 3 OHL seasons by the time he is drafted.
He is a very fast skater, and is smooth with the puck, unfortunately, there are not a lot of skilled forwards for him to pass it to on his team. Having seen him only twice this year, I have been disappointed with his lack of progress. I thought that he would really take off this year, but playing on a weak team may have taken a toll on him. He has one of the best plus minuses on the team, showing that his offensive game is not his only strength. He plays the angles well, and with his mobility, will not get beat one on one very often.
He has all the tools to be a very high pick in the NHL draft. I am hoping that he will continue to improve and keep the chain going of young offensively talented Canadians on the point, maybe quieting the critics who say that we do not develop talent anymore. With Derek Morris, Steve McCarthy, Jay Bouwmeester, the WHL has done its part, now its up to the OHL to start pulling its weight, and I think Popovic has the potential to be a real gem.
Jay Harrison– Standing 6’3” and 187 pounds, this second year defenceman patrols the line for the Battalion. Another late birthday, he was the first pick overall in the OHL 1998 priority draft. He has the size and tools to be an impact defenceman. Brampton is a young team, and has decided to go with youth, giving Harrison all kinds of ice time. So far this year I have seen the team play once, and I was disappointed with his play. I thought that he was making poor decisions with the puck when pressured. Since it was only one game, I will reserve judgement, and hopefully will see this team play more in the new year. They are an exciting team to watch and have 3 players ranked in the top 10 for the OHL for this years draft, and might have 2 for 2001 with Harrison and Jay McClement.
A few other OHLers to watch for over the next year and a half, Craig Kennedy and Tim Gleason from Windsor and Aaron Lobb from London. I will give a report on these and other prospects at a later time, as well as update the progress on the five players featured in this article. Merry Christmas to everyone!