A great player in the Ontario League may only skate in the circuit for two seasons before heading off to the NHL – think Sarnia’s Steven Stamkos or Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin – so it’s important to get off to a good start. This year’s crop of OHL rookies will be strong, led by No. 1 pick Travis Konecny, now of the Ottawa 67’s. We’ve got an exclusive 1-on-1 video interview with Konecny coming up on THN.TV, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other names to watch for, the majority of which were part of Team Ontario’s World Under-17 Challenge tryout camp last week.
Coming in right after Konecny is Dylan Strome, younger brother of New York Islanders prospect Ryan Strome and a game-changing forward in his own right. Tabbed with the second overall pick by the Erie Otters, Strome joins an emerging core led by phenom Connor McDavid, import goalie Oscar Dansk and, from what I’m hearing, Washington Capitals first-rounder Andre Burakovsky. But the Otters still missed the playoffs last season, so there’s work to be done.
“For sure this team is on the rise,” Strome said. “If I was on a more veteran team I wouldn’t get the same opportunity, so I’m really excited.”
Strome even got a chance to mesh with his new mates already, playing in a summer league with McDavid, Stephen Harper and recently signed blueliner Travis Dermott.
“They’re phenomenal players,” Strome said. “It gives you a taste of what the next level is going to be like. It’s hard every shift and you have to keep working, but they’re really nice guys so it’s easy to play with them. We’re having fun, so you can’t ask for anything else.”
The competition included squads repping the Jr. A Mississauga Chargers and Newmarket Hurricanes, plus a Barrie Colts prospect team.
“We did pretty well,” Strome said. “We lost in the final, but we didn’t have Connor for that game so that might have hurt us a little bit.”
A team even further along is the Kingston Frontenacs, who may challenge in the East thanks to a trio of 2014 NHL draft prospects, plus freshman Lawson Crouse.
“We should be really good, but obviously we have to prove that,” Crouse said. “Guys like Roland McKeown, Spencer Watson and Sam Bennett, I’ll be looking up to them and asking for advice because they’re going into their NHL draft year. That will be good for me.”
Crouse styles himself as a two-way power forward who’s not afraid to play some defense and also played on a line with Ottawa’s Konecny in midget. The 67’s and Fronts play in the same division, so that will be an interesting reunion.
“We work out every day together and we hang out a lot, so we give it to each other all the time,” Crouse said. “We joke around about giving it to each other during games. We’re going to treat each other like we’re not friends on the ice.”
Two teams in the rebuilding mode right now are Niagara and Mississauga. The IceDogs have now lost all the elite pieces from their recent run as OHL titans, meaning first-round pick Hayden McCool will come in handy as a new core rises.
“We lost a lot of guys, big guys like Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie,” McCool said. “Hopefully I make a little mark for myself and get some ice. We’re not going to win the championship, but we’ll have fun.”
A goal-scoring power forward who likes to watch Rick Nash play, McCool has already been given the lowdown on Niagara’s famously small ice surface at Jack Gatecliff Arena.
“It’s the smallest in…maybe even the (Canadian Hockey League),” McCool said. “It’s small and tight, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. They told me it’s tight in the corners and you’ve got to use your size, but if you move the puck quickly you’ll be fine.”
One of the most anticipated new puck-moving defensemen in the league is Sean Day, the latest recipient of Hockey Canada’s exceptional status rule, who will be joining the Steelheads as a 15-year-old.
“A lot of the veterans are moving out, like Stuart Percy and Dylan DeMelo,” Day said. “Looking at that, hopefully I can be a top-four defenseman. Even if I’m not, I’m happy to be there. All summer it’s a lot of hard work – workouts every day building up to the year because you’re going to the next level.”
Despite the exceptional status, Day was still around at No. 4 when Mississauga snatched him up, but that hasn’t fazed him one bit.
“We knew I would end up in Peterborough (at No. 3) or Mississauga,” he said. “I’m happy.”
And raring to go, with the regular season just a month away for all four froshies.