NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — When it comes to producing NHL talent, no junior circuit can outclass the Ontario Hockey League, which earlier in the month provided NHL clubs with five of the first 10 picks at the 2020 NHL draft. Competitive, entertaining, and filled with an incredibly rich history, the OHL will continue to maintain its standard of excellence in player development by providing this year’s draft class with dozens of NHL hopefuls, including several earmarked for the first round. Our Eddy Jones begins our OHL coverage for the 2021 NHL draft with his preseason list of the best draft prospects the league has to offer. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for season-long coverage.
A truly exceptional offensive defenseman, Clarke has all the makings to be a premier point producer at the NHL level. He fits the mold of the modern-day NHL defenseman with effortless skating and exceptional mobility and speed. He does all this, however, with an ideal 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, which is notably bigger than comparable high-profile defense prospects from previous years like Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, and Jamie Drysdale. Clarke’s ability to dictate play from the back end is advanced among all OHL draft-eligible defenders.
He’s a poised and patient puck carrier, and Clarke’s superb offensive instincts are highlighted with keen vision and tape-to-tape passing ability. Confident and decisive, Clarke is consistent with jumping into the play to create a numbers advantage. His offensive game seemed to take off after Barrie’s mid-season coaching change, so expect him to produce a wire-to-wire season of dominance. He thinks the game at such a high level that any over-aggressiveness inside the opposing end is quickly addressed with his speed headed the other. Clarke’s skating allows him to track back easily and a quick stick effectively break up plays. Much like Drysdale, Clarke should not be considered a stopper on defense, and although his reliability in his own end is generally solid, there remains room for improvement with his consistency in coverage.
2. Mason McTavish, C (Peterborough Petes)
Jan. 30, 2003 | 6’0, 193 | Shoots Left | 57gp-29g-13a-42pts
Whereas Clarke heated up in the second half of last season, McTavish cooled down considerably after a red-hot start, albeit from a different position. Nonetheless, that should not discount the promise he displays as a pure scorer, and a reduction in usage could be tied to the trade-deadline acquisition of Akil Thomas. Still, McTavish led all 2003-born players in both goals (29) and points (42), and although he is not an overly physical player, McTavish effectively uses his large frame to protect the puck and drive possession.
A natural sniper, McTavish already possesses a pro-level shot and release, and his willingness to shoot from anywhere is reminiscent of 2020 first-round pick Jacob Perreault. An elite set of hands allows McTavish to create additional space and open up scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Showing the tendencies of a scoring winger should not overlook his natural abilities as a centerman, however, McTavish was utilized at both positions but still won close to 60 percent of over 200 faceoff attempts. If there are any concerns, they should center on McTavish’s game-to-game consistency, but an expanded role of the top six could help him in that department. Additionally, McTavish needs to offer more off the puck in his own end and use his physical gifts beyond the scoring areas in the offensive zone.
Another highly touted forward with an NHL-caliber shot, Othmann was the second-overall pick in the 2019 OHL draft and has arguably one of the best one-timers in the entire OHL, let alone amongst draft eligibles. He posted respectable totals of 17 goals and 33 points, but it’s Othmann’s attention to detail in all facets of the game that help him stand out beyond the shooting and scoring.
An exceptionally smart winger with and without the puck, Othmann’s anticipation is almost at a veteran level. He not only positions himself properly but also picks off passes to jumpstart the attack. Othmann can also serve as a creative playmaker who displays impressive vision and can serve as the offensive-zone orchestrator. Still. It’s Othmann’s shot that continued to leave a lasting impression; not only the shots off the pass but also for an extremely accurate and deceptive snapshot.
If there’s one area in need of improvement, it could be Othmann’s confidence while on the puck; especially in the offensive zone. He had only 87 shots last season compared to 177 for McTavish. His skating at this point also is a work in progress, although his edges and balance help make up for a lack of explosiveness or quick first step.
4. Francesco Pinelli, C/W (Kitchener Rangers)
April 11, 2003 | 6’0, 182 | Shoots Left | 59gp-18g-23a-41pts
If anyone is going to challenge Othmann for the best two-way forward out of the OHL’s 2021 draft class, there’s a good bet it will be Pinelli, who is a well-rounded player and displays consistency both on and off the puck. He is a persistent forechecker who also performs admirably in his own end. You rarely see Pinelli go an entire shift without being involved in one form or another, and his tenaciousness and stick positioning help create turnovers in any zone.
On the puck, Pinelli is a dual-threat who can be a catalyst in the offensive end. In one shift he can catch a goalie off guard with a hard shot; the next, Pinelli can draw defenders out of position with deft stickhandling that opens lanes for his linemates. Like Othmann, Pinelli is used as a one-timer option on the power play, but he also has the ability to be a game breaker at even strength. Although he is listed as center, Pinelli played the majority of last season on the wing. With both Riley Damiani and Greg Meireles expected to move on from Kitchener, the likelihood that Pinelli operates at the center-ice position in his draft year should increase.
An older player among first-year eligibles because of an October birthday, Chayka is expected to suit up for his third full OHL season once he returns from being loaned to Zvezda Moskva in Russia’s adult-age VHL. Safe, reliable, and steady as they come, Chayka is your typical all-situations minute eater. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, he has the ideal length and build for a three-zone defender, and his mobility is highlighted by a smooth, efficient skating style. Although Chayka is not as gifted on the puck as Clarke, his pass-first mentality serves him well when initiating the breakout and allows him to stay within himself. Chayka can shoot the puck with authority, and his 11 goals and 34 points were tops among Storm defenders.
Chayka is a well-refined defender with exceptional positioning, an active stick, and a long reach; with the latter making him difficult to outmaneuver in 1-on-1 situations. Although he isn’t your classic power-play quarterback, Chayka saw heavy use during the man advantage and was used for his big shot. Considering that this will be his third OHL season, however, it is imperative that he adds more to his game once the puck crosses center ice, to include shooting more rather than simple d-to-d passes or dump-ins.
6. Brett Harrison, C (Oshawa Generals)
June 7, 2003 | 6’1, 172 | Shoots Left | 58gp-21g-16a-37pts
Another three-zone forward who contributes in multiple areas, Harrison is a capable stickhandler who is tough to knock off the puck. He’s on the younger side of his fellow OHL notables, so expect him to add more muscle to his 6-foot-1, 172-pound frame. Harrison’s skating strengths such as his elusiveness are more pronounced in close quarters than in open ice, although his 1-on-1 moves can be deceptive and known to catch defenders flat footed.
Harrison has an underrated shot that is accurate and released quickly. He finished last season with 21 goals, which was second only to McTavish among 2003-born draft eligibles. Harrison was used on the power play, where he tallied seven times. Although his overall package doesn’t scream high-end point producer at the highest level, his versatility and usefulness in any situation should keep him high on the list of go-to forwards for the Generals, who increased Harrison’s role after trading veteran Serron Noel.
7. Connor Lockhart, C (Erie Otters)
Jan. 21, 2003 | 5’8, 163 | Shoots Right | 57gp-9g-18a-27pts
A quick skater who plays a high-energy style, Lockhart is one the smaller side of the OHL’s top draft eligibles but should see an increased role at center with the expected graduation of Chicago draftee Chad Yetman. Lockhart’s point totals weren’t necessarily gaudy in comparison to his peers (9 goals, 18 assists in 57 games), but he has a strong reputation in Hockey Canada circles as he was expected to play at the cancelled under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Lockhart was selected third overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection.
Lockhart’s skating could very well be the best in the draft class. His ability to create separation is exceptional and his edgework allows him to operate in limited space. Lockhart’s high skill level coupled with elite hands makes him an obvious danger on the rush, and he has an excellent release and power on his shot for a forward his size. Deployed at center throughout his rookie OHL season, Lockhart could stand to improve at faceoffs, which he won at only a 42 percent success rate.
8. Wyatt Johnston, C (Windsor Spitfires)
May 14, 2003 | 6’0, 167 | Shoots Right | 53gp-12g-18a-30pts
After finishing last season with 25 points in his last 32 games, Johnston was able to join the list of OHL notables eligible for the 2021 draft. A slow start notwithstanding, Johnston had an impressive season when you consider his limited role on a deep Windsor squad. He appeared more comfortable and confident last November upon returning from the World U17 Hockey Challenge, where he tied for the Canada-Red lead in scoring with five points in five games.
Also considered to be a capable two-way talent, Johnston’s work ethic and attention to detail in his own zone are both impressive. He reads the ice exceptionally well and consistently applies pressure to opposing forwards. Although he’s listed at only 167 pounds, Johnston is more than willing to engage physically and muck it up along the boards or in front of the net. He also saw more time on the power play as the season progressed.
Johnston is a good skater with decent top speed, but his agility and edgework are solid. Adding explosiveness to his first step would certainly help, but he can make up for it with close-quarter maneuverability. He can unleash an average shot but also can fill role of playmaker.
9. Chase Stillman, RW (Sudbury Wolves)
March 19, 2003 | 5’11, 170 | Shoots Right | 58gp-13g-21a-33pts
Stillman quietly produced an impressive rookie season for Sudbury, which was led by 2020 second-overall pick Quinton Byfield. Stillman, whose father Cory appeared in over 1000 NHL games as a center, tied McTavish for the second-most points at 5v5 among 2003-both eligibles with 33. Playing on a veteran team kept his ideal zone starts to a minimum, but he still was able to prove his worth as a depth player.
Much like his father, Stillman plays a lot bigger than his listed measurements. He is more than capable of winning puck battles on his own and you can argue that his work ethic on the ice was unmatched by any of his teammates. He seemed comfortable playing the role of either facilitator or finisher thanks to keen vision and an impressive shot. Add Stillman to the list of 2021 draft prospects who could challenge his peers for the most points this season. His skating ability is more effective in traffic than in open ice, so keep an eye out for improvements in explosiveness and top speed.
10. Ty Voit, RW (Sarnia Sting)
June 10, 2003 | 5’8, 140 | Shoots Right | 49gp-8g-20a-28pts
A Pittsburgh-area native who was selected 89th overall in the 2019 OHL draft, Voit is an undersized playmaker with high-end skill and the ability to break games open. Blessed with impressive puck skills, Voit does most of his damage on the rush and is capable of gaining the inside in 1-on-1 scenarios. He can pull off exceptionally skilled plays without requiring optimal conditions such as gaps in coverage or an open path to the net.
It shouldn’t be a shock that a player listed at 5-foot-8 is not only fast but also quick in all directions. A playmaker by trade, Voit possesses exceptional vision and the ability to pick out teammates from anywhere on the ice. He’s a power-play specialist who should expect to see an increased role while playing alongside the likes of NHL draftees Jamieson Rees and Jacob Perreault. Adding strength to his 140-pound frame is an obvious requirement for the upcoming season, but Voit still posted eight goals and 20 assists in 49 games.
Honorable Mentions: Tristan Lennox, Goalie (Saginaw); Ryan Winterton, Center (Hamilton); Francesco Arcuri, Center (Kingston); Kyle Jackson, Left Wing (Ottawa); Artyom Grushnikov, Defenseman (Hamilton); Deni Goure, Center (Owen Sound);