First off the board: A look back at the Sudbury Wolves’ No. 1 picks

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With the announcement last week that the OHL would hold its first-ever draft lottery, the Sudbury Wolves suddenly found themselves in the running for the first-overall pick in the 2021 priority selection draft, set for June 4-5.

Granted, with a 5.3 per cent chance of landing the top selection, the Wolves have no better odds than 18 other teams (the Niagara IceDogs will not make a first-round selection, as punishment for previous recruiting violations), but Sudbury’s odds are no worse, either.

Had the 2020-21 season not been cancelled, the Wolves would have been unlikely contenders for first overall, especially if the defending Central Division champions had the likes of Quinton Byfield, Isaak Phillips and perhaps even Matej Pekar back in Sudbury blue and grey, rather than starting in the American Hockey League.

Instead, they have a chance, however slim, of naming a Jack Ferguson Award winner for the third time in seven years, after drafting David Levin in 2015 and Byfield in 2018, after doing so on three occasions previously.

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Each of Sudbury’s No. 1 picks made an impact on the franchise in different ways, and for different reasons. Not all reached the heights the team hoped for — highlighting, perhaps, the difficultly in identifying young players and projecting their potential at the major junior and professional levels — but each was a productive player in his own right.

Here’s a quick look at Sudbury’s No. 1 picks and their careers, both in the OHL and beyond.

Dave Moylan

Defenceman, Tillsonburg, Ont.

Drafted 1984

The 1980s were a difficult decade for the Wolves, but memories of their success in the ’70s were still fairly fresh when the Pack picked Moylan, a good-sized rearguard from the St. Marys Lincolns, to join a team that included the likes of Jeff Brown, Craig Duncanson, Mario Chitaroni and Jamie Nadjiwan.

A solid rookie season in 1984-85, during which Moylan collected 16 points in 66 games, led to his selection in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, 77th overall by the Buffalo Sabres. His sophomore campaign was even better, as the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder collected 35 points in 52 games, while wearing the captain’s C for Sudbury, and represented the Nickel City squad at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

The Wolves also took steps forward in 1985-86, nearly doubling their win total and making the playoffs, but stumbled again the following year and missed the post-season. Moylan was dealt to the Kitchener Rangers and accompanied them on a brief playoff run which saw the squad dumped in four straight by the North Bay Centennials, eventual finalists for the J. Ross Robertson Cup.

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Moylan never played in the NHL, but enjoyed a seven-year pro career in the AHL, International Hockey League and Colonial Hockey League, as well as a stint in Finland’s top pro loop.
His son, goaltender Jack Moylan, also played for the OHL’s Rangers, while his niece, forward Melani Moylan, had an excellent four-year career with Ohio State University, also serving as captain during her senior year.

John Uniac

Defenceman, Stratford Ont.

Drafted 1987

Selected after a championship season with his hometown Stratford Cullitons, Uniac had even better offensive numbers than Moylan as an OHL freshman, with 24 points in 59 games, but again, his team struggled, winning just 17 games and finishing outside the playoff picture. He played only 20 games in 1988-89, amassing seven points, before also moving to Kitchener.

It was during his following season with the Rangers that Uniac truly earned the appreciation of NHL scouts, resulting in his drafting by the Montreal Canadiens, 228th overall in 1990.

After one more season in the Tri-City Area, and an impressive 71 points in 58 games, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder played a half decade in the ECHL (when those initials still stood for East Coast Hockey League), retiring after the 1997 campaign.

John McFarland

Winger, Richmond Hill, Ont.

Drafted 2008

Having entered a rebuild after their thrilling run to an OHL final in 2007, the Wolves won just 12 games in 2007-08 and earned the right to draft McFarland, a fleet-footed power winger out of the Toronto Junior Canadiens system, who had totalled a jaw-dropping 165 points in 76 games during his draft year.

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McFarland made a fairly smooth transition to the next level, with 21 goals and 31 assistsas a 16-year-old OHLer, and had successful turns at both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the IIHF U18 championship. But while his second-year totals of 20 goals and 30 assists in 64 games were certainly respectable, questions emerged about his consistency and play without the puck, prompting a fall from the first round to early second in the 2010 NHL draft, 33rd overall to Florida.

McFarland’s longer-term impact in Sudbury was as a centrepiece in a mid-season blockbuster trade with the Saginaw Spirit in 2020-11, which brought scoring star Mike Sgarbossa to the Nickel City. Sgarbossa had a memorable, if not lengthy playoff run with the Wolves that year, before winning the OHL points race one year later.

Tours of duty with Saginaw and then Ottawa kept McFarland close to the point-per-game mark for much of his OHL career, and he had some solid years in the minor leagues before finally seeing three games of NHL action for the Panthers in 2015-16.

He spent a couple of years in Europe, then split a season between the AHL and ECHL before retiring as a player in 2019.

McFarland followed his brother, Paul, into the coaching ranks this year, joining the Cobourg Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League as a skills and development coach.

David Levin

Forward, Tel Aviv, Israel

Drafted 2015

A fascinating story, considering his country of origin and late start in the game, the super-skilled Levin looked to be the perfect addition for a team looking to turn the page on its worst season in franchise history, having collected only 26 points in 2014-15.

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A graduate of the powerhouse Don Mills Flyers U16 squad, Levin showed his playmaking potential early as a junior and even scored in his very first OHL appearance, but battled injuries for much of his career. All of that time in sick bay, combined with lingering concerns about the former roller hockey phenom’s ability to keep pace with the fastest players on ice, contributed to his passing over in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but Levin’s upside continued to intrigue, resulting in invitations to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ and Arizona Coyotes’ rookie camps.

One of Sudbury’s top offensive threats alongside Byfield and Blake Murray in 2019-20, a finally healthy Levin posted totals of 27 goals and 73 assists in 57 games, pushing his point total to 227 over a 259-game OHL career, which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Levin found his first pro opportunity in Latvia, where his father was a pro soccer player, with Dinamo Riga of the Kontinental Hockey League, and scored a highlight-reel goal in just his second game, but an offensive dry spell and a demotion to Riga’s affiliate, Zemgale, preceded his eventual release by the KHL club.

Levin found a new home in Sweden, however, as a consistent contributor for Kristianstads IK in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-level men’s league, amassing 10 points in 15 regular-season games and three points in five-post-season contests.

Quinton Byfield

Forward, Newmarket, Ont.

Drafted 2018

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A series of unfortunate injuries to key contributors such as Levin, Ryan Valentini, Macauley Carson and Kyle Rhodes prompted Wolves general manager Rob Papineau to sell off his veterans in 2017-18, en route to a 17-win season and a last-place finish.

There was one heck of a consolation prize waiting for them, though, in the form of Byfield, a centreman big on size, speed and skill — already dominant in his age group, yet seemingly just starting to tap his enormous potential.

Spurning the gamesmanship of others in the 2018 draft class, Byfield did not let the Wolves’ recent record dissuade him from committing to the club, and proved a sensation from his first few shifts as an OHLer, eventually posting 29 goals and 32 assists in 64 games to earn both OHL and Canadian Hockey League rookie-of-the-year honours.

Byfield only got better in 2019-20, despite increased attention from opponents and increased scrutiny elsewhere, totalling 32 goals and 50 assists in only 45 games. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder made back-to-back appearances at the IIHF world juniors, enjoying a point-per-game performance the second time out, and was selected in the first round, second overall, by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings last fall.

With the OHL delayed, and eventually postponed due to COVID-19, Byfield and other high-end juniors were able to start their seasons in the AHL, where the budding star collected 20 points in 30 games before his callup to the Kings last week.

The 2021 OHL draft lottery begins on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Sudbury Star will have full coverage, both online and in print, of both the lottery and the OHL Priority Selection draft on June 4-5.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

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