Each year there is someone who surprises at camp in the NHL.
Last year some expected Jakob Chychrun to be back with the Sarnia Sting after training camp. Instead, the Arizona Coyotes kept him beyond the nine-game trial and the hulking defender had a strong rookie year. Despite scoring 50 goals in his draft year, Jeff Skinner wasn’t thought of as a lock to make the Hurricanes. Instead, he stayed in Carolina and won the Calder trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year with a 63-point season.
All said, it’s difficult to tell who will thrive in the NHL early on in their career and who will need some seasoning.
Five OHLers We Might See in the NHL in 2017/18
Plenty of early first round picks get nine games to strut their stuff after their first camp. Some will stick after that. Others will head back to junior, like Mitch Marner, without those games under their belt. Players like him will come back to camp the next year and prove, without a doubt, they deserve to stick.
It’s difficult to tell how long a player needs to stay in the Ontario Hockey League before making the NHL jump. There are players from both the 2017 and 2016 draft that could spend a couple of games with their parent club this season.
With camps still over a month away, here’s a look at five OHLers who may be ready for the NHL.
Alex DeBrincat, Erie Otters – Overage eligibility
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Alex DeBrincat WILL NOT be back for an overage season. There’s no way. No chance. You don’t score 50 goals in three-straight seasons and come back for a 20-year-old season. Despite that, he is still a compelling figure in OHL circles. The big question he faces is whether or not he’s good enough to consistently play in the NHL. DeBrincat will get a chance to work on his game in the AHL, but Chicago likes to give talented young players chances. That means there could be an opportunity for him. And if he scores while he given that opportunity? He’ll stick. He’s more talented than his size and draft status (39th overall in 2016) indicate. Over the next couple of years, we’ll find out if he was a second round steal for the Blackhawks.
Off the Beat:
Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor Spitries – One year of OHL eligibility
Sergachev is the only player on this list with any experience at the NHL level. The ninth overall pick in 2016 played three games with Montreal at the start of last year, and one at the end of the season. Then, after winning the Memorial Cup with Windsor, he was dealt to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. Whether it was Montreal or Tampa Bay, it was easy to see him making the NHL out of camp. Now that the Lightning gave up a known commodity for the towering defender, it seems like even more of a sure thing. Sergachev has the size and ability to play in the NHL, but he lacked the opportunity. Tampa seems ready to give him that chance this September.
Off the Beat:
The Lightning will give Sergachev every opportunity to make the team out of camp. Many people I’ve spoken with, including his coach in Windsor Trevor Letowski, believe he’s ready for the NHL. The question is whether Sergachev can earn the type of minutes where it’d make sense keeping him on the roster. There’s still an outside chance he returns to junior, but I would not be surprised if Sergachev is with the Lightning for good. – Joe Smith, Tampa Bay Times
Michael McLeod, Mississauga Steelheads – One year of OHL eligibility
McLeod is an interesting case. The 12th overall selection in 2016 was a top-20 scorer in the OHL, finishing with 27 goals and 73 points. While those numbers aren’t earth-shattering, the playoffs are where he really earned consideration for this list. McLeod was the highest scoring player that didn’t play for Erie in the post-season, finishing with 27 points in 20 games. A five-point game, four-point game, and seven-game point streak powered the Steelheads to the OHL final where they lost to Erie. His speed and skill were on full display, dominating at both ends of the ice. If he doesn’t crack the NHL and a rebuilding Devils team, he’ll dominate in his final OHL season.
Off the Beat:
I do believe Michael McLeod could make the Devils, but he faces a twofold battle to do so. He has to show the Devils the improvement he’s made over the past season. He also has to prove he can be a reliable, two-way player at the NHL level. Even if he does those two things, he will be battlin other young prospects Nico Hischier, John Quenneville, Joseph Blandisi, Blake Pietila, Blake Speers, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Nick Lappin and Blake Coleman. Assistant general manager Tim Fitzgerald said there is a certain maximum of young forward prospects the team would want to carry at once but didn’t specify the number. – Andrew Gross, The Record (N.J.)
Adam Mascherin, Kitchener Rangers – One year of OHL eligibility
Owen Tippett, Mississauga Steelheads – Two years of OHL eligibility
Adam Mascherin has back-to-back 35 goal seasons in the OHL and just finished his first 100-point year. Not bad for a second rounder who fell in the 2016 NHL Draft because of size concerns. If he was healthy, Mascherin could have been a serious candidate for a nine game test in Florida. Unfortunately, due to shoulder surgery, he won’t be.
That injury could open the door for an early look at Owen Tippett, however. 2017’s 10th overall pick, Tippett is an explosive scorer who had 44 goals in 60 games. He was also dynamic during the playoffs with 19 points in 20 games. Both will likely end up back in the OHL, but one of them will have gotten a taste of the NHL.
Off the Beat:
I was told that Adam Mascherin will be ready to skate but not participate with contact in training camp. That means he will certainly return to Kitchener for another season. I’m almost certain, however, that Owen Tippett will play the first nine regular-season games. He will get a chance to prove himself worthy of a roster spot, most likely on the third line with Nick Bjugstad. GM Dale Tallon and Bryan McCabe, Director of player Development, have made it clear that Tippett has an NHL-ready shot, body and skating skills. They still want to determine if he’s mentally ready to compete against adults over an 82-game season though. – Harvey Fialkov, Sun Sentinel
Gabe Vilardi, Windsor Spitfires – Two years of OHL eligibility
Like DeBrincat, Vilardi finds himself in an interesting spot. The Los Angeles Kings have been a very good team recently. In being a good team, you don’t pick high very often. That means that you don’t have a lot of holes on your roster, and you don’t typically draft a guy that can make an immediate impact. After missing the playoffs, they picked high this year, and got a guy that could make an immediate impact. Vilardi’s numbers (61 points in 49 games) would be impressive even if his season wasn’t cut short by injury, and he offers the Kings some intriguing potential with his size and vision. He even offers a bit of position flexibility, after playing the wing throughout parts of his draft year so then-Head Coach Rocky Thompson could get him on the ice more. The Kings have a lot of contracts on their hands, but there’s also the very real possibility that Vilardi plays so well in camp, he forces their hand.
Off the Beat:
Anything can happen. You should never limit ambition, you should never limit optimism. Every year, every single draft, there’s a player who falls, whether it’s Cam Fowler going from a perceived two or three pick to 11, or Gabe falling from a perceived three or four pick to 11. You see it happen every draft someone falls in the first round. We were fortunate to be there to have him fall to us. – Mark Yannetti to Jon Rosen, LA Kings Insider
WINDSOR, ON – FEBRUARY 25: Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev #31 of the Windsor Spitfires moves the puck against the Barrie Colts on February 25, 2016 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)