Last week I had the chance to take a hockey road trip across Western Ontario to take in some games. The showcase games of course were the Canada Russia Series games during the OHL leg of the tournament. Between games I managed to to take advantage of geographical proximity of the GTA to watch several OHL league games and here are the players that stood out to me in each game.
Russia vs. OHL
Game three of the series was held in Kitchener, a great rink and atmosphere. Sitting with local Kitchener media they let me know that this was a regular occurrence as each game is a sell out, something I am not used to living in Kingston. But on to the players…
For Team OHL Guelph Storm goalie Nico Daws played a good game and was recently the OHL player of the week. Daws was passed over in the NHL Draft as he has been the backup in Guelph until this season as he has inherited the crease for the Storm. Daws is a hopeful for a shot to make the Canadian World Junior Team, but at 18-years-old he will have a much better shot next year if he can continue to trend in the direction he is going. Daws is a goalie you may want to keep an eye on if he is a over age draftee at the Montreal 2020 NHL Draft.
Speaking of the Draft, first time eligible prospects Jamie Drysdale, Quinton Byfield, and Cole Perfetti all looked like they belonged on this team and made good bids for WJC consideration. The only one that has a really solid shot IMO is Byfield. He was running the first OHL power play they had and really looked comfortable reading and controlling the play. His size is easy to see and while he could be a little meaner he does use it well to gain possession and protect the puck with his big reach. Despite having such a long stick, his puck control skills are also evident. He takes bad passes, has smooth toe drags and manages the puck in close, with one hand, I could go on. What was most impressive to me is his skating. Often you hear things like “skates well for a big man” which I never like. You skate well or not. Byfield skates very well. He has excellent balance, power in his stride, graceful in pivots and cross overs and has both good first step pop and top speed.
Ryan Merkley (SNJ) has been shroud in controversy during his career, he started the season being traded out of Peterborough and is now on his third OHL team in London. Merkley was a first overall OHL pick of Guelph as he has exceptional offensive skill and is a sublime skater. With the puck on his stick, he is one of the more exciting players in the OHL. His offensive vision is NHL level, his ability to move the puck up the ice and drive offense is evident and elite. When asked who on this team stood out to the media after the game, Quinton Byfield said “Ryan Merkley, mad a couple of rushes and its just incredible what he can do with the puck.” Based on skill alone, Merkley would be a lock to make the Canada WJC roster, but I will be very surprised if he makes the cut. His tendencies in the defensive side of the game boarder on egregious at times, let alone any off ice concerns. However his fantasy hockey upside and value remain exceptional.
Akil Thomas, and Aidan Dudas are both LA Kings prospects and give Kings fans hope for the future. They both had good showings in these games, Thomas had two points in his two games and was very good defensively as well. He plays a pro style game. Dudas continues to impress me inbox games. He first stood out to me in the Top Prospects game and again live on the big stage in Kitchener. He has a motor and makes impact in the play with his tenacity and compete level. While a smaller player, he is very aggressive in puck pursuit, his quickness is an asset as he seems to be able to dart in and out to open ice. Not sure if he is a NHL lock, but I sure do enjoy watching him play hockey.
For more of my thoughts on this series listen to the latest episode of DobberProspects Radio Podcast
Guelph Storm vs Kitchener Rangers
Next game was also in Kitchener as rival Guelph Storm were in town. I also watched Guelph on Saturday night as Kingston was in for a game. For the Storm their top players are Pavel Gogolev and Fedor Gordeev. Gogolev is in his fourth season in the OHL and has been passed over in NHL drafts. I saw him play regularly during his days in Peterborough, but he was brought in to Guelph for their run last year. I see the skill there for sure as he is tearing up the OHL as a 19-year-old, but I still see the reasons why he was not drafted. He does a lot of floating looking for open ice, looks lazy often. Despite the impressive stat line, he failed the eye test. Gordeev (MIN) was originally a Toronto pick from the 2017 draft. The leafs chose not to sign the big defenseman and he was invited to the Wild training camp and was signed as a free agent. He has great size, mobility and a good shot. His skating has improved since his days in Flint, and his gap control was good. He does not give free ice away. Still has some work to do to round out his game and is a long shot with a low ceiling fantasy wise.
The most impressive player on Guelph was 2021 draft prospect Daniil Chayka, the Russian Import is in his second OHL season and as a late 2002 birthday is not eligible for the draft until ’21. The 17-year-old was too young to be considered for the Russian roster for the Canada Russia series, but in hind sight they could have really used him. Chayka had two goals in the game and has 14 points in 18 games on the season. He has good size, is a great skater and looked very adaptable in the games I saw. He reads the games well, lets off big point shots, or quickly releases an accurate wrist shot in certain situations. This lead to one of his goals in the game I saw. Rather than blast a point shot, he hesitated, made a quick move to a better shooting lane and quickly sniped a wrist shot past the goalie. He was deployed in all situations and played big minutes for a 17-year-old. He looks like a first round pick to me for the ’21 draft and will be one year away from turning pro after he is drafted.
Sudbury Wolves vs Hamilton Bulldogs
The first game I saw on Saturday was a matinee in Hamilton with Sudbury. This was a great game with plenty of players to watch. Of course Byfield was the main attraction, but I spoke of hime above. David Levin was a player I was keen to watch as he has been up and down in prospect rankings during his career. Levin has not been drafted and is in his over age fifth season in Sudbury. During his tenure the Wolves have struggled but are at the top of the league this year. Levin has good offensive ability with 185 points in 220 career games. His defensive game has struggled, but as I mentioned Sudbury has been a basement dweller most of his career. His plus/minus for the first three years of his career were minus -26, -38, and -35, ouch!
This was the second OHL game for 6-6, 240 pound defenseman Adam Samuelsson. Adam is the son of former NHLer Ulf. Samuelsson comes from the USHL and USDP and had committed to Boston College of the NCAA. After only seven games with BC in 2018 he left and returned to the USHL. After some injuries he has decided to come the the OHL to find some more ice time and some bigger games. Samuelsson was given plenty of ice time despite the Wolves dressing seven defensemen for the game. He was in an adjustment to be sure as he was getting face-off lineup instructions from teammates but his play was good. Size is obvious, he is strong and has a back scratcher of a slap shot. His offensive game is not his forte, but like his old man his size and defensive reliability are his meal ticket. Adam was not drafted by an NHL team, so the 19-year-old is playing for a free agent contract..
Hamilton had several players of note as well. OHL league leading scorer Arthur Kaliyev (Another LA Kings prospect) is driving the offense for Hamilton. He finds a way to hit the score sheet on a consistent basis. He controls the play, directs pucks on oppositions goal, has a lethal shot, can score dirty goals in close as well as tips and deflections. He has improved his ability to use his teammates IMO, and his puck distribution.
Tag Bertuzzi was a second overall pick of the Guelph Storm, where his cousin Tyler and old mad Todd played. Now a Hamilton Bull dog, he was passed over in the NHL Draft in 2019. He has struggled with injuries in his career which may have been a factor in his draft snub. His offensive production has been a non-factor which may also be a factor. In the game I saw he was very underwhelming. He was very disengaged, played on the perimeter, turned away from opportunities to engage in puck battles, coasted and spent too much time looking for open ice when possession was either open or with the opposition. However he is producing offensively in his third season as an 18-year-old so he is a player to keep an eye on as he may be a 2020 draft overage target.
I saved the best for last today as the player that impressed me the most and really captured my attention and interest is Jan Jenik. Drafted by Arizona Coyotes in the third round of the 2018 draft he is having a breakout season. The current OHL player of the week is tearing it up offensively. He has at least one point in every game so far this season with 43 points in 20 games. The 19-year-old has average size, but reads the ice very well, finds open ice at opportune moments, plays physical, has a quick release on his shot and is a better than average skater. His puck control is excellent and at only 1% Fantrax ownership should be available in most leagues. Jenik was a Flint Import Draft pick but refused to report, Hamilton traded a fifth round pick and had him join the team for the final 27 games and playoffs last season. He made an immediate impact with 30 points in 27 games and is now over 2.0 PPG. Look for Jenik to turn pro next year and play a year in the AHL with Tucson, but I would recommend looking him up in your league if you are in a deep league like the DPFHL that has a full prospect bench, he could be a terrific hidden gem.