In five of the last six years, an OHL forward has been taken first overall in the annual NHL Draft. And in 2011, forward Gabriel Landeskog was the second selection when the Edmonton Oilers broke from tradition and selected the WHL’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the top pick.
In 2013, a couple more recent trends will be broken: not only does it look like the OHL will have to wait until the fourth or fifth selection, at the earliest, to hear one of its own called, chances are that name will belong to someone who patrols the league’s blueline.
While only three of the top-10 prospective OHL draft eligibles are blueliners, they represent a trio of ‘sure things’ (or as sure as you get in the NHL Draft). But, after you move past the top two forwards, there’s a lot of question marks and boom-or-bust potential amongst the forwards.
And a year after Malcolm Subban was taken in the first round, the OHL’s goaltending contingent in this year’s draft is woefully thin and likely won’t be turned to until the draft’s later rounds.
1. Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie(Fourth amongst North American skaters by CSS, sixth overall ISS)
There’s a lot to like with Nurse and he will represent incredible value for whichever team selects him, likely with the fourth or fifth-overall selection in this draft.
At 6’4” and approximately 185 pounds, Nurse not only has the size that teams are looking for, he’s performed at an incredibly mature level with plenty of room on his frame to grow, get stronger, and become even more dominant.
Beyond what Nurse brings to a team on the ice (12 goals, 29 assists, +15), his abilities and presence between the ears is even greater. As a 17-year-old, Nurse earned an "A" on his Greyhounds' jersey, and has already been named captain of next year’s squad. He’s displayed a maturity well beyond his years and has the intelligence to back it up, as evidenced by receiving the OHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year award this season.
Nurse has enjoyed success at the international level: World Under-17 bronze with Team Ontario in 2012, and gold on Canada’s Under-18 squad at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
With a father, mother, sister, and aunt who have all played sports at elite levels (his father was a CFL football player) — and let’s not forget the story of his uncle (by marriage) Donovan McNabb’s influence, which has been played and replayed throughout the year — Nurse knows what it means to be a professional and that’s evident by his tremendous work ethic.
2. Sean Monahan, C. Ottawa 67's (fifth CSS, ninth ISS)
For teams looking for elite two-way play and leadership, Monahan is an attractive package. He plays a game that’s reminiscent of the Steve Yzerman's of the world — he’s not flashy, he’s not going to command your attention, but he’s going to make the right play and he’s going to put points on the board.
Most importantly, he’s going to win.
In 2011, Monahan was on the Team Ontario squad that took home gold in the under-17's; that same year, he was on Canada’s gold-medal-winning Ivan Hlinka Under-18 squad.
Monahan’s a smart player who can play the game with a bit of an edge (he did serve a 10-game suspension this year). He has excellent vision and a commanding understanding of the game.
3. Bo Horvat, C, London Knights (15th CSS, 10th ISS)
Horvat had a heck of a coming out party during the Knights run to a second consecutive OHL title (and Memorial Cup berth) — earning the honour of OHL playoff MVP. A defensively responsible player with multiple facets to his game, Horvat’s an attractive option for teams looking for grit, talent, and consistency.
The Knights’ center plays a very strong north-south game. He’s bullish on the ice and is willing to drive towards the net. He’s shown decent hands (33 goals this season), and can play in all situations. But what also makes him appealing is that he’s one of the league’s top faceoff men.
He has a knack for scoring goals in pressure situations and has continued to refine his skating technique and round out an already strong overall game.
Horvat was a member of the bronze-medal Team Ontario squad at the 2012 World Under-17 Challenge, and took home gold with Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka.
4. Nikita Zadorov, D, London Knights (22nd CSS, eighth ISS)
In only his first season in the OHL, Zadorov made tremendous strides in his game. He’s a combination of skills and potential that will be very hard for teams to ignore.
Early in the season, Zadorov seemed to want to make a reputation for the big hit — and it’s a part of his game that he enjoys. But as the year progressed, he became markedly more solid positionally, learning to use his leverage and size more effectively (and taking himself out of the play far less).
He’s an excellent skater and, as the year went on, he became more comfortable with jumping into the rush. With only six goals this year, his offensive game is still a work in progress.
But his combination of size, skill, and potential is extremely attractive and Zadorov should hear his name called in the early teens.
5. Chris Bigras, D, Owen Sound Attack (14th CSS, 30th ISS)
Bigras may not be as flashy as some of the people who come after him in this list, but he’s steady, reliable, and versatile — and will be a solid addition to a team’s blueline.
The left-shooting blueliner has good size at 6’1”, but the strength of his game lies in his versatility. He showed some solid offensive chops this year (38 points) which complemented his solid defensive game (+35).
Bigras is a good skater who excels at making the smart play. He’ll rarely get caught out of position, sensibly jumps into the rush, and is proficient at making the first pass out of the offensive zone.
He won’t be a dynamic addition to a team, but as a player who will be comfortable both on the penalty kill and at even strength, with some ability to fill in on the power-play, Bigras offers a premium quality, minutes-eating package that will be attractive to many squads.
6. Max Domi, C, London Knights (19th CSS, 25th ISS)
Domi’s going to be an interesting case study during this year’s draft. Some people like him, while others absolutely love him — and it only takes one team to fall head over heels to find him taken in the top 10.
While many observers love Domi’s dynamism, he can also be infuriating with his penchant for trying to do it all himself. It can be especially frustrating when you see how amazing he can be passing the puck and choosing to integrate his team into the game.
Domi’s a proven performer: he had 87 points during the regular season this year, he was second in playoff scoring, and he’s won gold at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka.
He’s a type-one diabetic, but that shouldn’t be an issue for teams as he’s proven his resiliency and ability to control the condition. What may cause some consternation is his size — at 5’9”, he’s not the biggest player and his ability to dance through players will be more difficult as he progresses through the ranks.
But he’s arguably the most offensively dynamic player in the draft. He’s got the bloodlines (his father is Tie Domi) and he’s got the drive.
7. Zach Nastasiuk, RW, Owen Sound Attack (13th CSS)
The wild card of the OHL draft-eligible prospects. Some talk has him in the late-first, early second round; others feel players like the four who follow in this list could leapfrog him.
Like Nurse, Nastasiuk has the athletic bloodlines that have contributed to his solid, athletic frame. He is a solid two-way player who is extremely responsible in his own end, whilst still able to contribute offensively.
Nastasiuk was a key component of the gold-medal winning Team Canada squad at this year’s Under-18 WJC, and, like in Owen Sound, he was relied upon in all facets of the game.
8. Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor Spitfires (17th CSS, 20th ISS)
It appears that Rychel plays a vastly different game than his father Warren — when you think of how each Rychel used his hands, you’ll understand why. But looks can be deceiving.
If you look closer, you’ll see that while the younger Rychel’s game is dominated by the more offensive aspects of the game — as evidenced by back-to-back 40-goal seasons — he displays some of his father’s pugnacious behavior.
Rychel plays the game on the edge and has been known to drop the gloves. He plays that proverbial power-forward style and is only downgraded due to questions about his speed and skating.
Internationally, Rychel has been extremely successful: winning gold at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, gold at the Under-17s in 2012, and bronze at the 2012 Under-18 World Junior Championship.
9. Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth Whalers (16th CSS)
Hartman is a smart kid, but he’s also got a smart mouth — and he’s not afraid to use it.
He is the classic agitator, but can complement irritation with elation — displaying a nose for the net and some soft hands (23 goals this season).
Hartman turned some heads with his grinding performance for Team USA at this year’s World Junior Championship, and showed his resilience coming back from a nasty wrist injury to join the Whalers in their playoff push.
He’s a solid skater with nice hands, a good understanding of the game, and an appreciation for defensive play.
10. Jimmy Lodge, C, Saginaw Spirit (21st CSS)
Lodge can thank the OHL’s Most Valuable Player this season for his rise in draft stock. When Vincent Trocheck was traded to Plymouth, Lodge stepped up and filled the void.
He finished the season at better than a point-per-game pace, leading the Spirit into the playoffs. Lodge showed leadership and the willingness to put a team on his back.
What sets Lodge apart from many prospects is his speed. He’s quick to top speed and he’s one of the better skaters in the league. He’s listed at just over six-feet tall, so his size is neither a benefit or a detriment. But he’ll be first on the puck and is able to use his frame effectively to maintain possession.
He has good vision, good playmaking ability, and a good sense of timing — timing that could propel him into the first three rounds of the draft.
Other players of interest (listed alphabetically)
Michael Guigovaz, Peterborough Petes (11th amongst goaltenders, CSS)
Spencer Martin, Mississauga Steelheads (4th amongst goaltenders, CSS)
Jake Patterson, London Knights (20th amongst goaltenders, CSS)
Justin Bailey, RW, Kitchener Rangers (38 CSS)
Nicholas Baptiste, C, Sudbury Wolves (61 CSS)
Jason Dickenson, C, Guelph Storm (30 CSS)
Ryan Kujawinski, C, Kingston Frontenacs (63 CSS)
Nick Moutrey, F, Saginaw Spirit (58 CSS)
Jeff Corbett, D, Sudbury Wolves (113 CSS)
Ben Harpur, D, Guelph Storm (101 CSS)
Zachary Leslie, D, Guelph Storm (146 CSS)
Dakota Mermis, D, London Knights (95 CSS)
Jordan Subban, D, Belleville Bulls (55 CSS)