Adam Fantilli's whirlwind season isn't over. At least not yet.
After beginning this campaign with the GTHL's Toronto Jr. Canadiens, where he looked primed to dominate the competition after an impressive output with the Toronto Red Wings last season, Fantilli made the surprising decision to depart the club in September, opting instead to join his brother at New Hampshire's Kimball Union Academy. And he didn't disappoint. In 26 games as an underager, Fantilli scored 18 goals and 36 points and made clear he was the real deal.
And last week, Fantilli surprised again. With the OHL draft on the horizon and Fantilli as the projected top selection, the standout 15-year-old decided that he was going to take another route and signed a tender with the 2020 USHL championship-winning Chicago Steel. In short, he's decided to delay his entrance to the OHL, at least for the time being, and it means that whichever OHL club decides to select him in Saturday's draft will be taking an enormous risk that their first-round pick might not commit. Despite that, it is still believed he'll go early to a team willing to wait to reap the potential rewards in two years. It's anyone's guess which team will take that shot, however.
Alas, with Fantilli off the board – or at least out of the top slot – the North Bay Battalion had to pivot and change course, and Friday announced their intention: with the first-overall selection, the organization will be selecting Jr. Canadiens defenseman Ty Nelson, a no-brainer given the circumstances. Compared to the rest of the defenders for the draft, Nelson is as close as it gets to OHL ready. He has great offensive tools, is almost always winning foot races and while he's not the biggest body – he stands 5-foot-8 – he moves the puck up the ice as well as, if not better than, anyone his age. In terms of puck-moving and skating abilities, there are some similarities between Nelson and Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
This year's draft is as great a mystery as we've seen in recent years beyond the top selection, however. After Fantilli and Nelson, there are several players who will challenge for the second-overall selection, but a handful of those players have already committed to the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Thus, for the purposes of this list, we've ignored players who have committed to the program or an NCAA school. Of course, things can change and players could instead decide to head to the OHL next season, but let's put a focus on the players that are more likely to make the jump to major junior come the 2020-21 campaign:
Pano Fimis, C (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)
The minute Fantilli left JRC, it was up to Fimis to step up and lead the offense. He's a physical forward who likes to get in the heads of opponents and he'll follow it up with a dazzling play. After talking to some of his peers around the league, Fimis' name came up as the one guy they most hated to see 1-on-1. Fimis is unselfish, a strong skater and does a great job of creating space while handling the puck. He's got true first-line potential.
David Goyette, RW (South Kent Selects Academy)
Only two players in American midget hockey had more points than Goyette: Cole Spicer (169) and Rutger McGroarty (160). Goyette was one of two players with at least 100 assists, so you know playmaking is one of his greatest assets. Goyette has become a very quick player who spends most of his time buzzing around the net, and if he continues to develop at the pace he has, he’ll be a huge pickup. There's no shortage of NCAA schools interested in his services, but if he sticks to major junior, he'll be an OHL star in no time.
Bryce McConnell-Barker, C (London Jr. Knights)
Call him 'Lightning'. The top player in the Alliance this year, McConnell-Barker is one of the fastest skaters in the draft class and there are few players who compete as hard as he does every time he touches the ice. McConnell-Barker is a high-energy forward who plays every situation like it's the final minute of the game and doesn't miss many shots. Pair him with a two-dimensional playmaker and you've got a recipe for success.
Kocha Delic, C (Toronto Titans)
Delic was one of the top prospects heading into the season and lived up to the hype. His mix of speed and size makes taking the puck off of him a challenge and he isn’t afraid to get rough. Delic fights very hard and showcased a consistent basis that he’s a skilled player who will bring his A-game to every battle. Delic is a smart two-way player who steps up in big situations and should play a pivotal role next season.
Hunter Haight, C (Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs)
One of the biggest risers in the draft this season has been Haight. His explosive speed is what made him intriguing in bantam, but it's his 200-foot reliability that pushes him above other, smaller centers. He's not a strong kid, but if he grows another 3-4 inches, he'll find a way to bulk up.
Paul Ludwinski, C (Toronto Marlboros)
Scouts have been raving about Ludwinski for a few years now and it's easy to see why. He plays with urgency, forces turnovers and is known to sneak up on a slow-moving defenseman and pinch the puck. Ludwinski is surprisingly physical and he's tough to dispossess. Ludwinski puts plenty of power into his shot and always keeps his feet moving. He’s the type of guy a team can throw into an OHL lineup and have an immediate impact, even if it’s not offensively.
Dalyn Wakely, F (Quinte Red Devils)
Wakely was dominant for Quinte over the past few seasons and is sure to go early Saturday. Wakely does a nice job of forcing defensemen to turn over the puck and his wrist shot was among the best in the Eastern Triple A league. Wakely’s play will remind you of Kitchener forward Francesco Pinelli. Wakely is relentless and does a good job making plays rather than waiting for them. Wakely's speed is killer and few players have as hard of a work ethic in this draft as Wakely does.
Alec Leonard, D (Mississauga Reps)
Scouts seem split on where Leonard will land – some say top 10, others say mid-second round – but he'll make somebody happy, regardless. He's not a big kid, standing 5-foot-10, but he's calm and relaxed when moving the puck and doesn't let a bad play get to him. Leonard is a strong puck-mover and tends to engage offensively when it's safe to do so, but he's determined to never lose any battle in his own zone. If he was bulkier, he'd likely go higher.
Zakary Lavoie, RW (Toronto Nationals)
It's hard not to fall in love with Lavoie's style of play. At the season-opening Toronto Titans tournament in September, Lavoie had 10 goals in seven games to lead the tournament and continued as one of the better players with the puck in the GTHL. Lavoie's shot velocity and level of accuracy make him a natural goal-scorer, which is important in offsetting his small 5-foot-9 frame. His skating is somewhat odd. He's a strong skater and transitions well without losing much momentum, but his top speed is lacking. He's not far off there, and if that's one of his biggest knocks, that's A-OK.
Isaiah George, D (Toronto Marlboros)
George is a talented two-way defender who you’ll love to watch join the attack. George is smooth and calculated when dishing out a pass. A skilled playmaker, George tends to shy away from the physical play but can hold his own. He seems determined at all times to get the puck on the opposing net, which is typically a good thing for a hockey player, don’t you think? He even played a few games with the Oakville Blades Jr. A club, so he’s shown he can hang with top-end competition for his age.
Aidan Castle, RW (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)
Like Fimis, when Fantilli left the Jr. Canadiens early in the season, it allowed Castle to further showcase why scouts were so intrigued by him. His two-way game improved mightily over the past year and he’s got an impressive wrist shot that often fools goalies. Castle makes his own luck and is prone to looking to make a pass instead of shooting the puck himself. There's a reason he was a top scorer in various tournaments this year. He always finds a way to get the puck on his stick.
Matthew Poitras, C (Whitby Wildcats)
Whitby was one of the top teams in the ETA, and if you watched Poitras, you know why. The small but speedy two-way forward must use magnets in his stick because he controls the puck more than anyone while he's on the ice. In the OMHA championship in early March, Poitras finished second in scoring with 10 points in five games and made a few eye-popping moves while creating plays. He'll be an instant scoring threat next season.
Mikael Kingo, G (Vaughan Kings)
Playing for a red-hot Kings team that faced off with JRC in the GTHL final, Kingo stood tall in a goaltending duel duo with Domenic DiVincentiis. Kingo, who had nine shutouts this season, is an athletic goaltender with a quick glove and is a true battler in the crease. He's calm and relaxed in the net, allowing him to move on after a goal against. Kingo was featured in a previous issue of The Hockey News about his hockey journey while helping families in need of medical care.
Donovan McCoy, D (Quinte Red Devils)
McCoy can be hit or miss at times, but he's more hit than anything. An active participant in all three zones, McCoy has a knack for finding loose pucks in scrambles and is a man on a mission when it comes to recovering the puck and creating scoring chances for his teammates. If he can get a bit more confident moving the puck, he'll be an attractive option for NHL teams down the line.
Carson Christy, C (Oshawa Jr. Generals)
From talking to scouts, many believe Christy has what it takes to score 45-50 goals per season in the OHL. If that doesn't get you pumped, nothing will. Of his 62 points in 31 games this season, 41 of them were goals. He added another nine in 15 playoff games. Christy is nearly as rounded out as you can get: an incredible shot, smart passer, a hard-worker and defensively responsible. His skating needs a bit of work, but there's a bit of Cole Perfetti in Christy.
Cedrick Guindon, C (Rockland Nationals)
Want a player who can score as often as he can set up a game-changing play? That's Guindon, a creative forward who leaves defenders guessing until it's too late and has the speed to make his own opportunities. If he could add a bit more strength, he'd be a sure-fire OHL star.
Chase Pietila, D (Honeybaked)
Pietila was one of the biggest snubs from the USNTDP, and while there's nothing that says the 16-year-old will play in the OHL next season, he's still worth the shot. With the dominant Honeybaked team last year, the electric two-way defender had 52 assists and 64 points in 61 games. A power-play star in the making.
Harrison Ballard, C (York-Simcoe Express)
In recent years, Ballard has bounced around with the Don Mills Flyers, Mississauga Senators and York-Simcoe Express. This year, Ballard, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, was a standout with the Express in a year where most of the attention in the ETA surrounded Quinte and Whitby. Ballard is an athletic winger who is full of energy and plays a physical game that should help in his transition to playing against older, more experienced competition.
George Fegaras, D (Richmond Hill Coyotes)
A puck-moving defenseman with good size and impressive numbers to boot? Fegaras will be a popular target on Saturday for his ability to keep an offensive play alive without sacrificing anything in his own zone. His head is always up and he's not afraid to lay a big hit, but he does most of his damage setting up rushes.
Ryan Struthers, F (Oakville Rangers)
A big, speedy center, Struthers moved over to the Rangers this season from the Halton Hurricanes and immediately made an impact. He always has his head moving in order to find a teammate on the rush, and while he isn’t a big-time goal scorer, his speed and ability to get creative with the puck will catch your eye. He’s the type of player that does enough things right with the puck that you wouldn’t be afraid to give him significant ice time.
Sam Alfano, RW (Southern Tier Admirals)
Among first-round candidates, few players have the intimidating presence that Alfano possesses. A smart, quick forward with an accurate wrist shot, Alfano moves well with and without the puck and creates his own space and opportunities when in possession. There's some room to build some consistency, but a 6-foot-3 forward coming off of SCTA player of the year honors should have no issue adjusting to the next level.
Matthew Jovanovic, D (Toronto Marlboros)
You're not going to get much offensive upside from Jovanovic, but he thrives in the most important area for a defenseman: defending. An impressive skater, Jovanovic can reach top speed with minimal effort, yet still finds a way to conserve his energy for late in the game. He's extremely responsible in his own end yet still finds a way to force turnovers with ease. He's not as flashy as a few of the names on this list, but he's as reliable as they come.
Kyle Downey, G (Toronto Nationals)
There won't be many goalies going early at the draft, but Downey will be one of the first. Downey moves well in his net and when he is in the zone, few goalies are as tough to beat. Downey is a confident goaltender that wouldn't let a bad goal bother him and would often be the Young Nats' best player in games they were clearly outmatched in.
Nicholas Moldenhauer, RW (Toronto Titans)
The best word to describe Moldenhauer: sneaky. He's not a big kid, but he's got speed that kills and does most of his damage along the perimeter. Moldenhauer is more of a complementary player than a play-creator, but he doesn't miss many scoring chances and can capitalize on the power play. If that's what you need, scoop him up.
Jorian Donovan, D (Kanata Lasers)
Another strong two-way defenseman, Donovan is a raw prospect that's good at many things but not a star at anything particular. And that's OK, because, as one Ottawa area scout described, "he's an untapped talent ready for a huge boom." Donovan is a smart puck-mover, but he needs to find a way to stay consistent and competitive shift-to-shift.
Andrew LeBlanc, C (Southern Tier Admirals)
One of Alfano's teammates in Southern Tier, there's some real potential in LeBlanc as a top-line center. The undersized but skilled middleman has a lethal mix of speed, puck smarts and energy and, on many occasions, was the best player on the ice during regular season SCTA action. He's a faceoff stud who finds a way to quickly regain possession if he loses the draw and generally makes the linemates around him better.
Brady Stonehouse, RW (Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs)
Whichever team chooses Stonehouse will be getting a safe, smart pick. Stonehouse isn't going to wow you with anything particular, but he's got a dynamite of a shot and the versatility to play any role asked of him. He's a true team player and won't let a teammate take a hard hit without letting his opponents know he didn't appreciate it.
Justin DeZoete, LW (Hamilton Huskies)
He's somewhat under the radar depending on who you talk to, but Dezoete was a huge reason why the Hamilton Huskies have looked good the past few years. Each play he makes looks easy – but that's because he plays a smart, simple and effective game. When he earned a call-up to Jr. B with the Hamilton Kilty B's, he didn't look out of place and was actually the driving force behind his line. He'll be a steal in the second round.
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