With the OHL Draft just under a month away, the OHL Cup is set to begin Tuesday at the Scotiabank Pond in Toronto, a week-long, 20-team showcase that features the best minor midget players from Ontario and Detroit.
Top talent such as John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Jeff Skinner, P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene and Sean Monahan have all participated in the tournament in the past, with thousands of fans taking in the event each year in order to see which teenagers will be among the next crop of hockey superstars.
Players and scouts spend all year preparing for the event, which caps off a year that featured competitions such as the Toronto Titans Tournament, the Wendy Dufton Memorial, the Toronto Marlboros Christmas Classic and the Canada Winter Games. The Don Mills Flyers come in as the clear favorites, having lost just one game all year and making their mark as one of the best minor midget teams of the past decade. The team has three of the top prospects in the draft, including Shane Wright, who recently became just the sixth player to earn exceptional status into the CHL.
Detroit Compuware, who won the Whitby International Silver Stick tournament in November, was also expected to be a major contender but pulled out due to injuries and other issues a day before the event was set to begin.
With that in mind, which players should you keep a close eye on in the final showcase of the year for the top OHL Draft prospects?
Shane Wright, C (Don Mills Flyers)
With 150 points in 72 games in the GTHL this year, nobody could stop the dominant force that was Shane Wright as a bantam-aged player. At the Canada Winter Games, Wright had six goals and 12 points to finish 11th in scoring while playing in any situation the coaching staff dared to put him in. The clear favorite to get drafted first overall in April, Wright is a strong skater who can’t be pushed around much and is very dominant when in control of the puck in the offensive zone. He seems to have no issue starting a breakout play and doesn’t look for the easy pass that opponents are expecting, but rather the one that will generate a scoring chance. If you want to see him play this week, you’re going to want to be there quite early. You won’t be alone.
Brandt Clarke, D (Don Mills Flyers)
In other years, Clarke would have been a No. 1 prospect, but with Wright earning exceptional player status, the Don Mills defenseman will have to settle for second. Clarke showcased his true potential at the Canada Winter Games, leading the offensive charge from the back end for Ontario. This season, Clarke has shown great patience with the puck and seems to have a magnetic ability that draws wingers towards him before finding a way to get the puck on net. Clarke is willing to jump into rushes and rarely stays out of position long due to how fast he gets back to his own zone. Clarke will run the power play for Don Mills and should easily finish at the top of the scoring race among defensemen.
Brennan Othmann, LW (Don Mills Flyers)
Othmann was the man to watch at the Canada Winter Games, recording 16 points in Ontario’s second-place effort. Othmann’s ability to put pucks in the net this year is a clear sign of his talent, often converting on a good play by Clarke or Wright. Othmann has a nice mix of speed, skill, and strength, often throwing a big hit before getting a scoring chance on the same play. Scouts can’t seem to agree what Othmann’s potential truly is, but Othmann is very well-rounded and he does a good job putting himself exactly where he needs to be to score.
Benjamin Gaudreau, G (Team NOHA)
It’s always very tough to judge goalies at this age because many don’t begin to make big strides in their development for quite a while. But at this stage, Gaudreau is the top goalie and he’ll have many chances to prove that as he’ll represent Team NOHA, a select roster of players in Northern Ontario that aren’t expected to be a championship contender.
Gaudreau was a dominant force while playing against older competition with the North Bay Trappers in major midget and didn’t slow down at the Canada Winter Games. NOHA won’t be a contender, but the OHL Cup should serve as further proof that Gaudreau is the best goalie in the draft.
Artem Guryev, D (Toronto Marlboros)
It’s hard to call this an off year for the Marlies given they made the GTHL championship, but Don Mills simply overshadowed anything the Marlies could do. Guryev, however, has been a thorn in the side of the Flyers this year, leading a Marlboros blueline that isn’t afraid of anybody. Compared to Clarke, Guryev is a more physical defenseman. He uses his size to end rushes by the opposition and he blocks a lot of shots, too. If he can stay out of the penalty box, Guryev could come out of the tournament looking like a top-10 pick for April’s draft.
Luke Hughes, D (Detroit Little Caesars)
Yes, Luke is the younger brother of Quinn and Jack, two of the best prospects in hockey today. Like his brothers, Luke is an incredible young talent, leading Detroit from the blue line as a slick two-way defender. Hughes’ skating is among the best of all OHL draft prospects and, like Quinn, he’s great at operating the power play. He isn’t afraid to join rushes and get in on the offense, and his fast, fluent skating ability allows him to get back to his own zone rather quickly if he manages to overstep on a play. Hughes should be in the running for a spot with the U.S. National Team Development Program for next season after committing to the University of Michigan for 2021-22, but a lot can change beforehand, especially if the London Knights, who are notorious for convincing American players to sign with them, end up drafting him.
Ryan Del Monte, C (Toronto Nationals)
A highly-skilled center who can completely dominate a shift, Del Monte possesses solid speed and is a stellar passer, setting up the likes of Zach Dean and Josh Bloom with the Young Nats this season. Del Monte has a knack for scoring highlight-reel goals with a wide array of impressive moves and does a nice job in his own zone. Committed to Harvard for 2021, Del Monte will likely fall down in the draft as a result, but he’ll be a key member of Toronto’s OHL Cup effort this year.
Ryan Winterton, C (Whitby Wildcats)
Playing on a strong Whitby team with tremendous depth, Winterton won’t blow you away with tremendous skill, but his two-way game makes him an effective player at both ends of the ice. Considered to be the top prospect from the Greater Toronto Area, Winterton is known for being a solid passer that uses a mix of speed and strength to get him out of tough situations. Winterton is a smart forward who will likely make a career out of being a second or third-line center.
Maddox Callens, LW (Brantford 99ers)
This isn’t Callens’ first crack at the OHL Cup, having been a big part of Brantford’s championship run last year with 33 points in as many games as a bantam-aged player. Callens saw further improvement with the 99ers this season and was often the main draw for scouts attending Brantford’s games. Callens is a dynamic winger who is not only a dangerous scoring threat every time he touches the puck, but an extremely hard worker who wins most of the puck battles he engages in along the boards.
Francesco Pinelli, C (Toronto Red Wings)
Pinelli’s game is all about energy. The young center does a great job of attacking the puck and beating defensemen along the boards while finding ways to get creative to score goals. Pinelli is a hard competitor that opponents hate to play against, but everyone wants someone with Pinelli’s skillset on their team. Pinelli will likely see time with Adam Fantilli, who was a top-10 player in the GTHL despite being a late-2004 born prospect, preventing him from getting drafted in April.