A pair of plum prospects who were high picks by the Soo Greyhounds at the 2022 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft will develop with the reigning champion Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League this season.
They are goalie Landon Miller and defenseman Brodie McConnell-Barker. Miller was taken by the Greyhounds in the second round, 42nd overall, at the ’22 OHL priority selections draft while McConnell-Barker was the Soo’s third round pick, 48th overall.
The 6-foot-4, 180 pound Miller spent the 2021-2022 season with the Under 16 AAA Vaughan Kings. He was also among 40 OHL prospects that took part in Hockey Canada’s National Under-17 Development Camp in Calgary, Alberta during the summer.
Miller, who is being groomed to be the Greyhounds goalie of the future, said he is “looking forward to the experience (of playing in the NOJHL for the Thunderbirds.) I am super excited to start a new chapter of my career with the Thunderbirds.”
Having signed a standard OHL player agreement with the Greyhounds, Miller suited up in two exhibition games with the Hounds before recently signing an NOJHL card with the Thunderbirds.
“It was an unforgettable experience to be able to play for the Greyhounds in the OHL even though it was just preseason,” Miller said. “It felt great to get my feet wet in the OHL and to understand what it takes to play at that level.”
Thunderbirds general manager and assistant coach Jamie Henderson noted the affiliation with the OHL Greyhounds and the signing of both Miller and McConnell-Barker to NOJHL cards.
“Landon is an outstanding young man who is one of the top (goalie) prospects in the province. We are also very thankful for the relationship with (general manager) Kyle Raftis and the entire Soo Greyhounds staff … we share the same vision to help their players on and off the ice with their development,” said Henderson.
As for McConnell-Barker, Henderson noted that “Brodie is an excellent puck moving defenceman who will certainly bring an offensive element to our back end while being responsible and hard to play against. Brodie enjoyed a tremendous camp and exhibition season with the Greyhounds and we know he will be motivated to work hard with us this season and get ready to play at the next level when the time comes.”
McConnell-Barker, who stands in at 5-foot-11 and weighs 172 pounds, played for his hometown London Jr. Knights in 2021-2022 and helped them win the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario Under 16 championship.
Prior to last season, McConnell-Barker played forward for the under 15 Jr. Knights before switching to defence with the London’s under 16 squad in ’21-22.
McConnell-Barker is the younger brother of Greyhounds forward– and New York Rangers 2022, third round National Hockey League draft pick — Bryce McConnell-Barker.
“It feels pretty neat to be playing in the same city as my brother Bryce,” McConnell-Barker said. “It was also pretty surreal to get to play a couple times with him during the preseason this year with the Greyhounds.”
As for signing with the Greyhounds and then being assigned to the Thunderbirds, McConnell-Barker noted that “the Thunderbirds organization has developed many great players over the years and I am excited to be with this club. I plan on bringing an offensive style to the Thunderbirds and I want to be relied on in all situations, help the team win games and be the best player that I can be.”
With the additions of Miller and McConnell-Barker, the Thunderbirds now have three Greyhound draft picks on their roster. The other is defenseman Austin Fellinger, a local product who was taken by the Greyhounds in the 11th round of the 2021 OHL priority selections draft.
Miller and McConnell-Barker both have 2006 birth dates while Fellinger was born in 2005.
BIRDS TO HOUNDS
Three current members of the Greyhounds developed in the NOJHL with the Thunderbirds before moving top to the OHL. They are forward Tyler Savard and defencemen Connor Toms and Andrew Gibson.
Savard, who is in his second season with the Hounds, spent the 2019-2020 campaign with the Thunderbirds and scored 19 goals, 31 assists, 50 points others in 43 games.
Toms, a local lad who is also in his second season with the Hounds, played in 21 career games with the Thunderbirds and had four goals, 14 assists, 18 points.
Gibson, who is in his first season with the Hounds, spent the ’21-22 campaign with the Thunderbirds, and led all NOJHL defencemen in scoring with 21 goals, 30 assists, 51 points in 40 regular season games. For his efforts and despite being a rookie, Gibson was named the NOJHL’s best defenceman for the ’21-22 season.
Savard has a 2003 birth date, Toms was born in 2004 and Gibson has a 2005 birth date.
Notably, Toms is a son of Jeff Toms, who was part of the Greyhounds 1993 Memorial Cup championship team and a big left winger who went on to play in more than 200 games in the NHL followed by several more seasons of elite pro level competition overseas. The elder Toms now works as a first responder in Sault Ste. Marie and helps the Under 12 AA Soo Jr. Greyhounds as their skills and development coach.
VOODOOS TO HOUNDS
The Greyhounds have another former NOJHL standout on their current roster in recently signed 2004 birth year defenceman Caleb Van De Ven.
The 6-foot-2, 170 pound defender was the Greyhounds 13th round pick in 2020 and played the ’21-22 campaign with the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodoos where he potted nine goals, 23 assists, 32 points in 42 regular season outings.
Powassan general Chris Dawson gave a bit of a low down on Van De Ven.
“Caleb is a gifted skater with tremendous lateral movement,” relayed Dawson.
Meanwhile, Greyhounds GM Kyle Raftis noted that Van De Ven “is a smooth skating defensemen who had a great training camp following a big year in the NOJHL with Powassan. We are excited to have him work with our staff to continue to grow in all areas of his game.”