To be sure, it is very early on the 2019-2020 Ontario Hockey League regular season schedule. Still, the National Hockey League and its Central Scouting staff has released its first ‘players to watch’ list of the season ahead of the 2020 pro draft.
To date, 41 players from the OHL have made the initial list of players to watch for the next NHL draft, which is slated for June 26-27 in Montreal.
The list of OHLers includes 25 forwards, 14 defenseman and two goalies.
A total of eight players from the OHL were given ‘A’ rankings, which translates to being a potential first-round pick at the 2020 NHL draft.
Seven others from the OHL were given ‘B’ rankings as potential second, third and fourth-round possibilities.
The 26 others from the OHL who made the first ‘players to watch’ list of the season were ranked as ‘C’ candidates.
The annual NHL draft is seven rounds in length.
The majority of the players ranked have 2002 birth dates. But there a number of players born in 2001 who have late birthdays (September to December) and are thus eligible for the NHL draft for the first time in 2020.)
The ‘A’ rated players are as follows.
Quinton Byfield, Sudbury Wolves. There are some who see the hulking 6-foot-4, 215 pound center as a generational player. Byfield, the first overall pick by Sudbury at the 2018 OHL draft, is averaging two points per game in the early going of this 2019-2020 season after putting up 29-32-61 offensive totals as a rookie. His character is said to match his skill, speed, smarts and size.
Cole Perfetti, Saginaw Spirit. A tad on the small size but well built, Perfetti went in the first round, fifth overall, to Saginaw at the 2018 OHL priority selections draft. A center with speed to burn and a quick release shot, Perfetti led all OHL rookies in scoring last season with 37 goals, 37 assists, 74 points. There were many who thought Perfetti should have won OHL rookie of the year in 2018-2019, an honour that instead went to Sudbury’s Byfield.
Jacob Perreault, Sarnia Sting. Another forward with considerable skill, Perreault netted 30 goals as a rookie last season after being Sarnia’s first round pick, 19th overall, at the 2018 OHL priority selections draft. He is a son to Yanic Perreault, who played in 913 games in the NHL and scored 258 goals.
Will Cuylle, Windsor Spitfires. A slick, sleek, forward, Cuylle was a first round, third overall pick by the Peterborough Petes at the 2018 OHL draft. But he refused to report to the Petes and was subsequently dealt to the Spitfires, for whom he scored 26 goals as a rookie last season.
Jean-Luc Foudy, Windsor Spitfires. The quintessential play-making pivot, Foudy had 49 points as a rookie last season, 41 of which were assists. The cerebral center was Windsor’s first round pick, 10th overall, at the 2018 OHL draft.
Marco Rossi, Ottawa 67’s. Another small center, the Austrian born Rossi, who has a late 2001 birth date, burst onto the OHL scene last season with 29 goals for the Eastern Conference champion 67’s.
Antonio Stranges, London Knights. The American-born forward has proven to be another find for the London hockey factory. Stranges, who the Knights snagged in the second round of the 2018 draft, is averaging a goal a game in the early going of this OHL season after finding the back of the net 13 times as a rookie.
Jamie Drysdale, Erie Otters. A right-handed shooting defenseman who is just 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Drysdale tallied 40 points from his blue-line position on a lowly Erie team that missed the playoffs last season. He is averaging a point per game in the early stages of this, his second OHL season. Drysdale was Erie’s first-round pick, fourth overall, at the 2018 OHL priority selections draft.
Among those OHL skaters who are ranked as ‘B’ and ‘C’ candidates for the 2020 NHL draft, the Soo Greyhounds have four players listed.
They are ‘B’ prospects, defenseman Ryan O’Rourke and front-liner Jaromir Pytlik, and ‘C’ ranked forwards Rory Kerins and Cole MacKay.
Though eligible and though he was rated for the 2019 NHL draft, MacKay was bypassed through the entire seven-round process. But another good season could mean MacKay makes it as an NHL draft pick in 2020.
Meanwhile, former Greyhound first-rounder, 2001 birth year forward Hayden Fowler, who is now with Erie, has a ‘C’ ranking as of the first NHL ratings.
Looking for a potential sleeper from the ‘C’ group?
It could well be Flint Firebirds center Evan Vierling.
Vierling was Flint’s first-round pick, second overall, at the 2018 OHL priority selections draft. And after a very slow start to the 2018-2019 term, he finished with a flourish, collecting 11 points in the final eight games of the season.
In all, Vierling had 6 goals, 21 assists, 27 points in 60 games in his rookie OHL season.
If there is an OHL player who improves his ranking as this season goes on, Vierling is a player to keep in mind.
PHOTO: Saginaw Spirit center Cole Perfetti celebrates one of the 37 goals he scored as a rookie last season.