Marner, Labanc tops among NHL properties on the wing in OHL

By Jason Menard
Mitch Marner - London Knights - 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup

Photo: London Knights forward and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner (L) produced 16 goals and 44 points in 18 postseason games in the Knights’ run to a Memorial Cup championship (courtesy of Rob Wallator/CHL Images)



The Ontario Hockey League was stocked with talent up front this season and it culminated in a season for the ages for one London Knight. But while Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Mitchell Marner may have been the top winger this year, he was not the only show in the league.

The OHL was blessed with a depth of elite-quality, NHL-drafted talent on its wings this season, with the best of that group being ranked below.

1. Mitchell Marner, RW, London Knights
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, fourth overall, 2015 NHL Draft

It is hard to have a better season than Mitch Marner had this year with the Memorial Cup-winning London Knights. He took home the OHL Player of the Year award, won the OHL and CHL championships, Memorial Cup MVP, and also walked away with the CHL Player of the Year award. Only a less-than-stellar team performance by Canada at the World Junior Championship served to prevent this from being a perfect season for the highly touted Maple Leafs’ prospect

Playing for the majority of the year with highly regarded draft prospect Matthew Tkachuk and Arizona Coyotes’ draft pick Christian Dvorak, Marner put up incredible numbers this year with 39 goals and 116 points in 57 games. And then he increased his production in the playoffs, scoring 16 goals and adding 28 assists in 18 playoff games en route to a Memorial Cup championship sweep.

The only thing holding Marner back next year from playing in the NHL may be a desire to have him spend another year getting man-strong. Marner will never be ‘big’ – he is currently listed at 5’11” and 165 pounds – but his game isn’t based on size. He is shifty and is rarely hit straight on, and he complements that shiftiness with otherworldly vision and hand-eye coordination.

Chances are that Marner will spend a few games in the NHL to start next year and will get loaned to Canada’s World Junior team. Whether he returns to the Knights for another expected Memorial Cup run or he sticks in the NHL will depend on his production.

2. Kevin Labanc, RW, Barrie Colts
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the sixth round, 171st overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

As an overager, Kevin Labanc made the most of his opportunity with the Barrie Colts, finishing the season as the OHL’s scoring leader.

In 65 games this season, Labanc scored 39 goals and added 88 assists, nearly reaching a two-point-per-game pace with the Colts.

Labanc played in all facets of the game this year and showed an ability to play a key role at both ends of the ice. His skating isn’t NHL-ready yet, but he knows where to go, how to get there, and what to do once he arrives.

3. Josh Ho-Sang, RW, Niagara IceDogs
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the first round, 28th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

His skill on the ice has never been in question. His willingness to listen, learn, and be a team player has. But Josh Ho-Sang is one of the more engaging players in the OHL. He is cocky, yes, but that cockiness comes from his prodigious talent. And he produces.

This year, he played a key role in propelling the Niagara IceDogs to the OHL final. And what is appealing about Ho-Sang is that while he may have a propensity for the end-to-end, flashy rush, at the end of the day, he is all about setting up his teammates.

And he showed this year that when the chips are down, he can contribute. In 17 playoff games this , he scored six goals and added 20 assists. That followed an 82-point season that was built upon a foundation of 63 assists in 66 games.

Ho-Sang has all the talent in the world and has uncanny vision. How he integrates with his teammates – and whether his confidence pushes too far into the world of cockiness – will determine his success at the next level.

4. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Kingston Frontenacs
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the first round, fifth overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

Michael Dal Colle proved this year that the championship lessons he learned last year with the Oshawa Generals continue to resonate.

His is a game built on speed, and he injected the Kingston Frontenacs with lightning in a bottle this year after coming to the team in a mid-season trade. The Oshawa Generals, retooling after last year’s championship run, traded Dal Colle to the Frontenacs for their playoff push. And he made a huge difference – after a slower start to the year with Oshawa (eight goals in 30 games), Dal Colle caught fire with the more talented Frontenacs, scoring 27 goals and adding 28 assists in 30 games.

Dal Colle has NHL-ready speed and is ready to make the jump to the pro ranks after seasons of 95, 93, and 80 points (the latter in 60 games) in the OHL.

5. Pavel Zacha, LW, Sarnia Sting
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the first round, sixth overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft

Pavel Zacha was known in Sarnia for his offensive abilities but, fittingly for someone drafted by the traditionally defensive-minded New Jersey Devils, it is his focus on defense that has made him an attractive commodity for the team’s future.

In 51 games with the Sting this year, Zacha finished the year with 28 goals and 64 points. He also showed his nasty side, racking up 97 penalty minutes. But it was his selection by the OHL’s Western Conference coaches as the conference’s best penalty killer that has to warm the cockles of the Devils’ hearts.

Zacha also made his debut in the NHL this year, picking up two assists with the Devils before heading back to Albany. It is safe to say that the talented forward, who has embraced the two-way game, is ready to take the next step.

6. Dylan Sadowy, LW, Barrie Colts
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2014, traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 2016

The Barrie Colts brought Dylan Sadowy to their squad halfway through this season to help propel their playoff push, with the idea that his enticing combination of grit and goal scoring would aid the cause. And while the Colts fell short of their ultimate goal, Sadowy proved why he was such an attractive commodity – and why he stands to be successful at the next level.

In 28 games after the trade, Sadowy scored 25 goals. He added 11 assists and finished the regular season with 45 goals in 64 games.

Sadowy has the grit to play a key second or third-line role in the pros – and has the hands to be a welcome contributor.

7. Andrew Mangiapane, LW, Barrie Colts
Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the sixth round, 166th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft

Andrew Mangiapane has shown he has the offensive chops to dominate at the OHL level, and now he will have the opportunity to prove whether this can translate to the pros.

The Bolton, ON native has shown he can play both ends of the ice, finishing with a +50 this season. And everyone knows he can fill the net as he has had back-to-back 100-point seasons in the OHL, contributing with a 51-goal campaign in 59 games this year leading up to a 106-point season.

At 5’10” and 185 pounds, Mangiapane needs to add a little more bulk to succeed at the next level. But he has offensive instincts that can’t be taught, combined with a willingness to play both ends of the ice, which will serve him well.

8. Christian Fischer, RW, Windsor Spitfires
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the second round, 32nd overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft

Christian Fischer’s rookie campaign in the OHL was by all accounts a success. Coming from the U.S. NDTP, the Chicago, IL native dominated with the Windsor Spitfires, finishing his 66-game campaign with 40 goals and 90 points.

At 6’1” and 215 pounds, he has great size and could likely make an impact in the pro ranks next year. And though he could have a huge impact on the Spitfires’ Memorial Cup-hosting campaign in 2016-17, chances are he will continue his development in Albany, where he has already played six games and accounted for three assists.

9. Eric Cornel, RW, Peterborough Petes
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round, 44th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

Eric Cornel switched positions this year, shifting to the wing. In addition to the weight of a position change, Cornel also had the weight of the Petes’ captaincy on his chest. And, in both cases, he passed with flying colors.

In 68 games this year, he scored 27 goals and added 56 assists. Cornel has also played in a dozen games with the Rochester Americans over the past two years and should be more than ready to make the jump to the pro ranks next year.

At 6’2” and 200 pounds, he has a bit of room on his frame to bulk up, so a summer in the weight room should pay dividends next year in the pro ranks.

10. Spencer Watson, RW, Kingston Frontenacs
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the seventh round, 209th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

Spencer Watson helped led the Kingston Frontenacs to the OHL’s Eastern Conference championship this year, and did it with an enticing skill set.

In 64 games, Watson scored 43 goals and added 46 assists. Though only 5’11” and listed at 170 pounds, Watson is an effective agitator who gets underneath the opposition’s skin. And he can backup that feistiness with an impressive set of hands.

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard