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The next ones: A look at the top prospects heading into the OHL draft

The OHL draft features one of the top prospects since Connor McDavid, but there's more talent available after Shane Wright. We took a look at some of the top Ontario players to watch.
Shane Wright

Steven Ellis/The Hockey News

With the Kingston Frontenacs' announcement Friday that the team’s future will be led by Shane Wright – as if there was any doubt the player granted exceptional status after a dominant season would go first overall – the OHL draft got to an early start.

Wright had an incredible 72 points in 33 GTHL games and 150 points in 72 games prior to the OHL Cup, only to secure the most valuable player award thanks to an 18-point effort. The 2004-born Wright fell just eight points shy of John Tavares' offensive output when he became the first player to earn exceptional status in OHL history, but 59 points short of Connor McDavid's incredible pre-OHL draft campaign. That said, McDavid played 16 additional games and only had five more points in GTHL competition.

That’s quite the company, but it’s more than just impressive stats that makes Wright so fascinating. Wright is like a Mercedes Formula One car, blasting away from the competition with great straight-line speed and quick acceleration. He sees the game differently than other high-end prospects, allowing him to make the right pass instead of the easy one. Unlike other top prospects, Wright will stick around for three years before becoming an NHL star, so Kingston has time to build around him, not to mention a star down the middle that can help attract future assets.

Wright’s Don Mills linemate, Brennan Othmann, is expected to join the Flint Firebirds with the second pick after a 66-goal, 146-point season in 72 games. Othmann spends enough time in front of the net and should help Flint 2018 draft pick Evan Vierling (second overall) find his groove in his sophomore campaign. Othmann is a high-end winger with a scoring touch, hard shot and impressive top-end speed, so the Firebirds are in good hands going forward.

The Don Millers Flyers had a season to remember, posting a 77-0-6-1 record with their lone overtime loss coming to Detroit Compuware at the Whitby International Silver Stick tournament in November. Wright and Othmann were two of the best all season and true game-changers in a year where nobody came close to stopping the Flyers reign as the best team in the country.

But who else is worth watching when the OHL draft kicks off Saturday morning? American players expected to be on the final United States National Team Development Program under-17 roster weren’t included, as players like Colby Saganiuk, Luke Hughes, Dylan Duke and Sasha Pastujov are top prospects who are believed to be key members of the team after taking part in the USNTDP evaluation camp. With that in mind, let’s look at 10 players that will be off the draft board in a hurry:

Brandt Clarke, D (Don Mills Flyers)
On many occasions this season, Clarke was the most impressive player in the GTHL, and perhaps in all of Ontario minor midget. A smart kid who rarely puts his teammates in a dangerous position when dishing out the puck, Clarke likes to join the forecheck and is quick to get back to defend in his own zone. Playing on a dominant Flyers team allowed Clarke to get more creative than he'll be able to be in major junior, but he has all the tools to challenge for the rookie of the year title next season. Clarke is creative, quick and strong and was an offensive catalyst on Ontario’s Canada Winter Games team that won silver. Clarke has the ability to have the most impact out of any draft prospect.

Mason McTavish, C (Pembroke Lumber Kings)
McTavish was outstanding with the Pembroke Lumber Kings midget AAA team in the Ottawa area this year, leading the league with 47 goals and 79 points in 41 games. He isn’t afraid to get rough along the boards and outmuscles most of his opponents with his solid 6-foot-1 frame. The most valuable player in HEOAAA action this season, McTavish’s work ethic is among the best in the draft and he has a knack for finding himself in high-danger scoring situations. It's worth mentioning that Mason's dad, Dale, played four seasons with the Peterborough Petes, who select fifth, right around where McTavish may land.

Connor Lockhart, C (Kanata Lasers)
One of the most dominant midget players in the country, Lockhart had an incredible 79 points in 41 games with the Kanata Lasers AAA team, tying McTavish for the league lead. More of a playmaker than McTavish, Lockhart is highly skilled and was simply too fast for other players his age to keep up. A center who can also excel on the wing, Lockhart sees the game well and created most of the scoring opportunities for his team. Lockhart will make an immediate impact in the OHL next season and will not have to wait long to hear his name called.

Francesco Pinelli, C (Toronto Red Wings)
Pinelli had the luxury of playing with future star and top 2020 OHL draft prospect Adam Fantilli, but Pinelli was a man on a mission with the Red Wings. In fact, Pinelli may be the best two-way center other than Wright in the draft. Pinelli's work ethic is incredible, always buzzing around the ice and creating scoring chances instead of waiting around for a pass. Pinelli likes to shoot, and didn't miss many opportunities when given the chance this year. Pinelli was named one of the OHL Cup's top forwards after finishing second in scoring with 14 points, and it's only a matter of time until he's a top-line captain in the OHL.

Danil Zhilkin, C (Toronto Marlboros)
The top prospect from the storied Toronto Marlboros organization, Zhilkin is a skilled forward who is already primed to be a high pick in the 2022 NHL draft. Zhilkin is a slick puck-handler with razzle-dazzle to his game. He also possesses a wrist shot that has a good mix of power and velocity. Zhilkin is good in the faceoff circle and likes to engage in physical play when it makes sense. He performed at his best at the Toronto Titans Early Bird Tournament in September, leading the event with nine goals and finishing with 12 points. Zhilkin is committed to the NCAA’s Boston University, but it's believed he’ll play in the OHL at some point.

Logan Mailloux, D (Toronto Marlboros)
Mailloux joined the Marlboros from the Sun County Panthers and made an immediate impact on Toronto's back end. Mailloux's 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame made him tough to beat in one-on-one situations and his shot has enough power to hang with the best blueliners in major junior. Mailloux's bread and butter is his physical game, but he's a good skater, too. Mailloux had a terrific OHL Cup, with one goal and nine points before going on to play an important role with the Marlboros in the GTHL championships.

Ben Gaudreau, G (North Bay Trappers)
Considered by many to be the top goalie in the draft, the 6-foot-2 netminder led his major midget team (made up of players a year older than him) to a perfect 36-0 regular season record. Gaudreau then stood on his head with Team NOHA at the OHL Cup, making them a serious contender all the way until the elimination round. Gaudreau uses his size to his advantage, giving players very little to shoot at, and he moves from post-to-post exceptionally well. Teams don’t typically draft goaltenders early, but a club looking for the next top goalie may make an early move to snag Gaudreau.

Brenden Sirizzotti, RW (Whitby Wildcats)
The ETA doesn’t get as much attention as the GTHL does leading up to the draft, but after Quinton Byfield emerged as the top prospect last year, and later, one of the best rookies in the OHL, it’s further proof that the league produces some incredible talent. Oh, speaking of Byfield, he had 92 points in 34 regular season games with York-Simcoe last year, while Sirizzotti had 93 in 36 games this season. Sirizzotti is driven to win every puck battle and the 5-foot-11 winger is often the fastest player on the ice. He can hold his in physical bouts, too. Consistency is the name of the game for Sirizzotti, who watched his stock rise throughout the season.

Liam Arnsby, RW (Don Mills Flyers)
Yet another Don Mills Flyers product. Arnsby was one of the best players at the Whitby International Silver Stick tournament in November, recording four goals and 11 points in a tournament where the Flyers suffered their only loss of the season (an overtime defeat at the hands of Detroit Compuware.) Arnsby is a power forward with a big shot and a tendency to play tenacious. He isn’t a great skater, but if you need size and strength, you need Arnsby.

Josh Bloom, LW (Toronto Nationals)
One of the most impressive prospects at the recent OHL Combine was Bloom, a winger with the Toronto Nationals with a game of Junior A experience with the OJHL’s Oakville Blades. Bloom was listed as the top on-ice player and the fourth-best off-ice performer at the combine. His Young Nats team fell flat at the OHL Cup, but that shouldn’t hurt Bloom, who had a nice Canada Winter Games tournament in February. Bloom is a two-way playmaker with a quick release, and his ability to make passes while under attack will get teams excited.

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