The 2020-21 hockey season has ended and it has been unlike any other in history, but we are finishing it off with the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night and Saturday morning.
The 2003 group in Northern Ontario is a special group, along with some players who came north to play hockey, and I wanted to highlight my thoughts on some of the potential picks. I was fortunate enough to be the director of operations for the 2003 Team NOHA, along with the coaching staff of Kyle Brick, Miguel Beaudry and Alex Cruise, so I know many of these kids and they all deserve success this weekend.
– Chase Stillman: The son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Cory Stillman and a star for the Sudbury Wolves should be a second-round pick on Saturday morning.
His willingness to do everything like block shots, fight, finish checks and play hard has endeared him to teams across the NHL. He also has some offensive ability that will allow him to play up and down an NHL lineup. Players like this help teams win Stanley Cups, as evidenced by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
– Benjamin Gaudreau: The Corbeil resident was a first-round pick of the Sarnia Sting and recently backstopped Team Canada to the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship in Texas. His mental strength, technical ability and athleticism should see him selected in the second round of the draft. Both Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa will go before him, I’m not convinced that Gaudreau doesn’t end up being better. He has all of the tools to become an NHL starter and those guys don’t grow on trees.
– Red Savage: The son of former NHL star and Sudbury native Brian Savage, Red is a prototypical two-way centreman who has tremendous leadership qualities. He recently captained Team USA at the U18 championship and played well for the undermanned Americans. He projects to be a perfect third-line centre in the NHL and he will have time to develop as he is headed to his dad’s alma mater at the University of Miami in Ohio with his older brother, Ryan. Bloodlines, character and hockey IQ make him a very low-risk selection.
– Max McCue: The Sudbury-born-and-raised McCue was a second-round pick of the Knights and like every other first-year player in London, he didn’t play much at all but Mark and Dale Hunter love the kid and expect big things when the OHL returns in October. He has an edge to him that is paired with skill and reminds me of a bigger Brendan Gallagher. I think he will be a third- or fourth-round pick on Saturday, and will provide good value in that spot. I love the player, because that physical presence and hockey IQ are hard to find. Just ask the Detroit Red Wings about Tyler Bertuzzi.
– Jack Matier – The Sault Ste. Marie native was taken in the first round by the Ottawa 67’s and didn’t get much opportunity in 2019-20 season because of the veteran-laden blueline they iced, but his play at the recent U18s raised a few eyebrows. He is a physical specimen with his 6-foot-6, 218-pound frame and his excellent defensive play is a trait NHL teams know they need to win in the playoffs. Like McCue, I expect him to go in the third or fourth round, with the possibility of sliding into the fifth. A tremendous young man who will get every ounce out of his potential.
– Jacob Holmes: The Soo Greyhounds’ first-round pick in 2019 is the reliable defender with some offensive upside. He showed the ability to make plays and defend well in his pandemic-shortened rookie season in the Sault. Those traits, combined with good skating and a 6-foot-2 frame, are all things that excite teams and I’d expect him to be a fourth-round selection.
– Joe Vrbetic: The North Bay Battalion goaltender strikes an imposing figure in the net at 6-foot-6 and has a quickness that is usually found in smaller goalies. He started his junior career with the Powassan Voodoos of the NOJHL and brought that league to its knees before moving on to the Battalion. It only takes one team to like him, but I’d expect he is a fourth- or fifth-round pick on Saturday.
There are a number of players that have Northern connections who I really hope are selected, but because of the cancelled season in 2020-21, it will be tough because of a lack of exposure. If they are not selected, I fully expect them to have big seasons in the OHL this year and get NHL scouts’ attention for the 2022 draft. These players include:
– Mitchell Martin (Kitchener Rangers): A big kid with sneaky hands and a pro shot who dominated goalies in the NOJHL.
– Landon McCallum (Sudbury Wolves): Wolves’ first-round pick in 2019 who plays hard, isn’t afraid and competes on every shift.
– Oliver Smith (Barrie Colts): A hard-working two-way player who scored a lot in Rayside. but really impressed in his five-game callup to Barrie.
– Nick DeGrazia (Sudbury Wolves): Really got scouts’ attention at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge for Team Canada East.
– Marc Boudreau (Soo Greyhounds): A prototypical power forward who kept getting better before the season ended in March 2020.
– Josh Kavanagh (Peterborough Petes): An offensive defenceman who impressed when he was called up by the Petes in 2020.
– Zach Giroux (Flint Firebirds): The brother of Minnesota Wild prospect Damien Giroux is small, but very crafty and skilled offensively.
To view my full rankings for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, visit www.thepuckauthority.com.
The feedback from my last article about ways to improve AAA hockey in Sudbury was overwhelming. I got so many calls, texts, emails and encouragement that I am very reassured that there is an appetite in this city to do things better as we go forward.
The morning after the article was printed, I was contacted by both Nickel City Hockey Association and the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association and both agreed that this city can do better. Unfortunately, that was the last contact I’ve had with either group and in the interim, they’ve named all of their AAA coaches and the status quo has remained.
We are only months away from the 2021-22 season and to expect massive changes quickly is not realistic, so I remain hopeful that the groups can get together to improve the situation for the players going forward. Change is hard to accept and slow to implement but I think everyone knows it is needed.
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” ― John F. Kennedy; June 26, 1963
Those are my Deep Thoughts for July.
Mark Seidel runs North American Central Scouting. He’s a longtime scout and executive in the OHL and other junior leagues and is active in minor hockey. Reach Seidel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MarkSeidel.