It is an up to par league brimming with 15 and 16 year old northern talent. And there is also, as a bonus, a smattering of later developing 17 year old players sprinkled in. At any rate, the Great North Under 18 Hockey League annually produces a sundry of Ontario Hockey League draft picks while also supplying the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with top notch performers.
To be sure, there is much to like about it. Under estimated by some but appreciated by those who truly know the game, the Great North loop is again chock full of young players with potential, if not for the OHL, then most certainly for the NOJHL or a north country equivalent such as the Superior International Jr. Hockey League.
No doubt, there are quite a few 15-year old players from the Great North with 2007 birth dates who are on the radar to be possible, prospective picks at the 2023 OHL priority selections draft. Just as there are 16 year olds from the Great North with 2006 birth dates who are candidates to be taken at the OHL’s 2023 supplemental draft for players who were by passed in 2022.
Let us first take a look at a few ripening plums from the 2007 birth year group.
• Among the 2007 birth year prospects for the 2023 OHL priority selections draft are three goalies from the Great North who have all shown extremely well thus far this season. They are Alex Hall of the Timmins Majors, Nathan Maguire of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds and Nick Marson of the Sudbury U16 Nickel Capitals. Notably, Marson has a late birthday and will not turn 15 until December 16 of this year. Marson is a Sault Ste. Marie product who moved to Sudbury this year to play hockey with the U16 Nickel Capitals.
• Defensemen with 2007 birth dates who have all turned heads this season include Alexandre Valade of the U16 Nickel Capitals, Declan Gallivan and Candon O’Neill of the Jr. Greyhounds, Cole Ellis of Timmins, Jackson Rivet of the North Bay U16 Trappers and Alex Fournier of the Kapuskasing Flyers. O’Neill, in particular, has been a blue line standout for the Jr. Greyhounds to date. And strikingly, Ellis is a big defender with skill who hails from the geographically isolated small town of Chapleau.
• And the 2007 forward group is led by scoring sensation Max Campbell of the U16 Nickel Capitals along with his teammates Cole Dubowsky, Keynan Kydd and Anthony Bertrand. Other high end notables are Hudson Chitaroni, Brendan Cooke and Deven Jones-McDonald of the Jr. Greyhounds and the North Bay U16 duo of Hudson Prisco-Duquette and Bryden Shank. Of note, Cooke does not turn 15 years old until December 22 of this year. Meantime, a sleeper of sorts is swooper Coulson Bell of the U16 Nickel Capitals. The skilled forward was cut by his hometown U18 Jr. Greyhounds squad only to head to Sudbury and be impressive enough to earn a spot on the U16 Nickel Capitals.
Meanwhile, there are those with 2006 birth dates who could potentially wind up as supplemental draft picks or gain an invitation to an OHL team’s tryout camp as a free agent. They include forwards Jacob Smith and Gabe Palumbo of the Jr. Greyhounds, forwards Nate Gravelle, Caleb Dawson and Cayden Kowal of the North Bay U18 Trappers, Timmins forward Travis Poan and a duo of goalies in Maverick Fletcher of the Soo and A.J. Borrelli of the Sudbury U18 Nickel Capitals. Borrelli is yet another determined Sault Ste. Marie product who ventured from home this season to play in Sudbury.
All together, there are dozens of current Great North players who could eventually find their way onto the roster of an NOJHL team and develop into a capable player at the junior A level.
Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the players of the Great North for OHL Central Scouting is the very reputable Blaine Smith. A former long-time general manager with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, Smith is now the managing director of the Sudbury Cubs of the NOJHL and is being assisted by 26-year old Tyler Cooper as the northern Ontario evaluators for OHL Central Scouting.
“OHL Central Scouting director Darrell Woodley has established a mentorship program this season with myself as the mentor and Tyler as the young up and comer who would like to enter into the OHL scouting field. Tyler has done a great job assessing northern talent in my view, and we work as a tandem. We are both very passionate about players in the north and we will get a better handle on our overall ratings after watching the top U16 players in the province perform at the Silver Stick Tournament in Whitby,” Smith told Hockey News North.
Smith, who was in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday to watch the game between the Jr. Greyhounds and the U18 Nickel Capitals, likes the talent level in the Great North this season.
“The calibre of ’07 birth dates up north is impressive,” Smith began. “Tyler and I have seen a good number of players and there is a solid group of draft eligible players that possess the attributes that OHL teams are looking for including skill, speed and vision, compete with hockey smarts.
“We are making extra efforts to see some of the top teams and players in the north including the Soo U18 team which has a number of very good OHL prospects,” Smith added. “There is passion for players from the north and there is good reason for that. There is a lot of talent up north, no question about it.”
There are few in the game like the straight shooting, 65-year old Smith, who most certainly knows a hockey player when he sees one and who has a positive, honest affiliation with the OHL, the NOJHL and the Great North that dates back to the mid 1980s. Basically, it can be said that when Smith gives his word, one can count and depend on it.