Some projected him as a late third round pick. Others had him rated as an early fourth round selection who would not be available come the fifth round.
But the powerhouse London Knights — of course — were able to nab defenseman Mason Chitaroni from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League with the second last pick of the fifth round (99th overall) at the recent 2020 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
And Steve Warner, who is London’s long time, Sudbury based, northern Ontario scout, said he was “very happy and very relieved” that Chitaroni was still available at the no. 99 spot.
“To be honest, we saw Mason as a third or fourth round pick,” Warner told Hockey News North. “And when it came to the fourth round and we had two picks, I thought for sure that we would be taking him.
“But the draft doesn’t always go according to plan and after we took (left winger) Brody Crane (from the Buffalo Jr. Sabres) with our first pick in the fourth (62nd overall) we were shocked to see (defenseman) Isaiah George (of the Toronto Marlboros) still there at no. 68.
“Isaiah George was, arguably, a potential first or second round pick and there was no way we could pass him up when he was still there in the fourth,” Warner pointed out.
That being said and while they were thrilled to land George, Warner figured the opportunity to draft Chitaroni had passed the Knights by.
“We certainly thought that (Chitaroni) would be gone early in the fifth round … and we couldn’t believe it that he was still there at no. 99 when we picked.
“I know it sounds like a cliche but it’s true … we feel as though we got a real steal that late in the fifth round,” Warner added, noting for example that the Soo Greyhounds, Flint Firebirds and Guelph Storm all had two chances apiece to pick Chitaroni in the fifth round.
The veteran London scout said Chitaroni — who was the third defenseman taken by the Knights at the 2020 draft, following Jackson Edward of the York Simcoe Express and the aforementioned Isaiah George of the Toronto Marlboros — “can be summed up in a few words: speed, skill, smarts, character and grit.”
Meanwhile, lasting until the second last pick of the fifth round suited the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Chitaroni — who won’t turn 16 years old until October of this year — just fine.
“I talked to Steve (Warner) quite a few times before the draft and I was hoping London would draft me,” Chitaroni told Hockey News North. “London was definitely my first choice of where I wanted to go. To be drafted by perhaps the most prestigious organization in the OHL is just amazing.”
Meantime, Jamie Henderson, who coached Chitaroni with the Jr. Greyhound midgets during the 2019-2020 season, neatly side-stepped a question when asked if he thought the speedy defender would go higher than the fifth round.
“It is never easy trying to predict where players will ultimately be chosen and when they are slotted in,” Henderson said evenly.
“I do know that London is getting a highly motivated player who has a real upside,” Henderson noted of Chitaroni, who notched six goals, 13 assists, 19 points in 38 games for the Jr. Greyhounds during the 2019-2020 Great North regular season and was named the league’s top minor midget defenseman.
“Mason can flat out skate with the best 2004 birth year players anywhere and he has a lot of raw talent,” Henderson added in further praise of Chitaroni, who was born in the small, northwestern Ontario town of Marathon.
(The Chitaroni family moved 255 miles from Marathon to Sault Ste. Marie about four years ago.)
Notably, as an added bonus, Chitaroni has deep hockey bloodlines as the son of Terry Chitaroni, a hard-nosed forward who played four full OHL seasons with the Sudbury Wolves from 1988 to 1992.
The elder Chitaroni was drafted by Sudbury in the second round, 17th overall, in 1988 — the OHL was a 15-team league then — from the New Liskeard Cubs of the Great North Midget Hockey League.
As an OHLer, Chitaroni racked up 276 points — including playoffs — and spent 629 minutes in the penalty box as a fibrous Wolves forward who eventually became team captain in Sudbury.
He then played pro in the American Hockey League and in Germany after being an under-sized National Hockey League draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Blaine Smith, who worked in the front office of the OHL Wolves for more than 30 years and who is now the managing director of the Rayside Balfour Canadians of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, was asked to compare father and son Chitaroni.
“Mason plays a different style of game than his dad, that is for sure,” Smith told Hockey News North. “First of all, Terry was a forward and would go through anyone to get to the puck. Mason is a defenseman and reads the play extremely well.
“They both have good hands and Terry played much bigger than he was … I think Mason is bigger than Terry already,” Smith noted before adding: “I see Mason being that smart, two way defenceman that every team covets. He has a hard, accurate point shot, which is something that will earn him power play time as he progresses.”
And as the elder Chitaroni would fight at the drop of a hat as an OHL star with the Wolves, Smith recalled his old captain’s feisty ways.
“I don’t know if Mason has Terry’s temper on the ice but if he does, I feel sorry for his opponents,” Smith laughed before concluding: “I am pretty sure Mason could beat Terry in a race. Mason’s skating skills are way, way above average.”
Will the 15 year old Chitaroni become yet another steal by those well-run, well-operated London Knights who have such a splendid history of drafting so shrewdly under the ownership and management of brothers Dale Hunter and Mark Hunter and their scouting staff?
Seems like a pretty safe bet. After all, they are the London Knights, the envy of their opponents.