Following up in Flint


Randy Russon
By
May 20, 2019

It was a fast forward to the future in Flint as the Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League held their orientation camp.

Among the prospects who were in Flint over a recent three-day period were the Firebirds top five picks — all taken within the first three rounds — from the 2019 OHL priority selections draft.

In general, the 2019 draft of 2003 birth-year players was considered deep in talent and there is considerable feedback that Flint did rather well, beginning with the five players that Firebirds general manager Barclay Branch, head scout Dave McParlan and regional scouts Kyle Branch, Freddie Coccimiglio, Derek Langlois, Joe McCann, Mike Oliverio and Tom Watson all had a hand in selecting.

A fab five of sorts, here is a sketch of the Firebirds top prospects from the 2019 OHL priority selections draft.

BRENNAN OTHMANN

The Firebirds began with a flash by taking the 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward as the second-overall pick in the first round.

Othmann recorded a very, very impressive 66 goals, 80 assists, 146 points in 72 regular season games with the Don Mills Flyers of the Greater Toronto Hockey League in 2018-2019.

Along with linemate Shane Wright, who went to the Kingston Frontenacs with the first overall pick of the 2019 draft, Othmann played an eye-catching role in helping the Flyers to an overall record of 77-0-7 record as Don Mills won the regular season and playoff titles in the GTHL.

Then, in 13 playoff games, Othmann led Don Mills in scoring with 7 goals, 15 assists, 22 points.

BRAEDEN KRESSLER

In what could play out as a steal, Flint selected Kressler in the second round, 28th overall.

A Kitchener, Ont. native who played for the Mississauga Senators of the GTHL in 2018-2019, Kressler was seen by some as a first-round pick. But he slipped into the second round and Flint was quick to snap him up with the 28th pick.

Kressler is a 5-foot-8, 150-pound center who was a point-per-game player over the course of the 2018-2019 season for a sub-par Mississauga team. He has a reputation as a tireless competitor who has hands of silk to go with a good shot.

Of note, his older sister, Bryanna, is a standout softball player and academic star with the Detroit-based, Wayne State University Warriors of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

TYLER DUNBAR

In the third round, the Firebirds tabbed the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan native with the 44th overall selection. One of the youngest players taken at the draft, Dunbar has a late December birthday.

A slick, poised defender, the 6-foot, 170-pound Dunbar skated for the cross-river Soo Minor Thunderbirds of the Great North Midget Hockey League this past season and developed under the steady hand of coach Jamie Henderson.

Ahead of the 2019 draft, Dunbar was projected by a number of scouting websites as a late-round pick. But Hockey News North correctly projected Dunbar as a third-round draft pick, which the youngster became.

ZACHARIE GIROUX

The Firebirds picked another northern boy in the third round, 57th overall, opting for a pint-sized pivot in Giroux.

The 5-foot-5, 135-pound center had 28 goals, 27 assists, 55 points in just 24 regular-season games for the Sudbury Minor Wolves of the Great North loop.

A mixture of speed, spark and spunk, he is the younger brother of Damien Giroux, a third-year center with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.

MATTHEW ROY

Flint took the shifty, puck-moving defenseman in the third round, 58th overall.

The 6-foot, 170-pound Roy skated with skill for the York Simcoe Express of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, Eastern Toronto Area in 2018-2019.

A HINT IN FLINT

To be sure, there is light at the end of the OHL tunnel that leads to Flint.

If the second half of the 2018-2019 season can be used as a measuring stick, expect the Firebirds to make big gains in the OHL standings in 2019-2020.

Showing marked improvement, Flint forged its way from last place to second last in the final OHL regular-season standings for 2018-2019. A record of 5-3-2 over its last 10 games of the 2018-2019 campaign capped what was a nice second-half surge for Flint.

At the halfway point of the regular season — the 34-game mark — Flint was deep in last place in the 20-team OHL with just eight points from a record of 3-29-2. At the same time, the 19th-place Kingston Frontenacs had a record of 9-24-1 and were 11 points ahead of Flint.

But the Firebirds ran up a record of 13-17-4 over their next 34 games to finish with 38 points from a 16-46-6 mark. The Frontenacs, meanwhile, went from bad to worse over their last 34 games with a record of 5-28-1 to end up in last place with 30 points from a 14-52-2 record.

Looking ahead, having completed his second season as the general manager in Flint with back-to-back playoff misses, the aforementioned Barclay Branch has helped to position the Firebirds for better days ahead beginning with the 2019-2020 campaign.

Center Ty Dellandrea, Flint’s leading scorer during the 2018-2019 season with 63 points, is poised to again lead the way in what will be his fourth year with the Firebirds in 2019-2020. Dellandrea, who has a 2000 birth date, was a first round pick of the Dallas Stars at the 2018 National Hockey League draft.

Other returnees of note for 2019-2020 are three players with 2001 birth dates — import defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok and forwards Ethan Keppen and Cody Morgan.

Kolyachonok and Keppen are both being pegged as picks at next month’s NHL draft while Morgan was a point-per-game player (13 goals, 17 assists) for Flint in 30 outings after being obtained in a trade with the Windsor Spitfires.

Of further note, Keppen became a 30-goal scorer in 2018-2019 in just his second season in the OHL.

Another 2001 birth year player who is set to return in 2019-2020 is forward Emmet Pierce, who scored eight goals in 24 games for Flint in 2018-2019 after his OHL rights were obtained from the London Knights.

Arizona Coyotes draft pick Dennis Busby is also scheduled for a return to Flint in 2019-2020. The 2000 birth-year defender played in just two games in 2017-2018 because of a collarbone injury and suited up for only 27 matches in 2018-2019 after recovering from a broken foot that he suffered at Arizona’s NHL training camp.

Yet another player of promise who was born in 2000 who will be counted on to continue to up his game in 2019-2020 is forward Eric Uba. Uba came on strong to finish the 2018-2019 season with 19 goals.

Still with the 2000 birth-year class, big right winger Connor Roberts is capable of productivity provided he is healthy.

The 6-foot-4 Roberts — who was a first-round pick, third overall, of the Hamilton Bulldogs at the 2016 OHL draft — played in just 14 games for Flint in 2018-2019 before suffering a season-ending injury.

Roberts had shown potential in 2017-2018 after Flint acquired him from Hamilton in a trade. Roberts managed 15 goals in 44 games after joining Flint from Hamilton.

Then there is 1999 birth year forward Jake Durham, who had a breakout season with 35 goals in 2018-2019. Durham is a top candidate to be one of the Firebirds three overage players for the 2019-2020 campaign.

One of the youngest players on the Firebirds is one with a tremendous upside.

He is 2002 birth-year centre Evan Vierling, who Flint took with the second overall pick at the 2018 OHL draft.

Vierling started off slowly as an OHL rookie during the 2018-2019 season and it took him 25 games to score his first goal. But the smart, slick pivot picked up 11 points over the final eight games of this season and finished with 6 goals, 21 assists, 27 points.

Branch, as the GM, likes what is in store for Flint moving forward.

“I couldn’t be happier for our organization and all who are involved,” relayed Branch. “Our brand is growing, our team is growing and I couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds.

“We certainly see much better days ahead as an organization,” Branch told Hockey News North.

Of note, the 2019-2020 season will be the first full term for the Firebirds under young head coach Eric Wellwood. Wellwood took the helm in Flint in the early stages of the 2018-2019 season and the Firebirds became a much-improved team as the campaign progressed.

PHOTO: First-round pick Brennan Othmann pulls on his Flint Firebirds jersey.


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